Should we be using the word Welsh to describe ourselves?
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
The origin of the word Welsh is not pretty.
Because of that there are those who don’t believe that the Welsh should refer to each other as, erm, well, Welsh.
They believe that everyone should use the word Cymry, which of course is the Welsh language word for the Welsh people. I bring this up because I was once accosted for using the term Welsh to describe my fellow countrymen and women.
The argument goes like this.
The etymology of the word Welsh is rooted in less than flattering connotations. It is derived from the old Germanic word walha. It is a variation on a common word used hundreds of years ago by Saxons to mean foreigners or outsiders. Germanic tribes invaded England in the fifth century, and this is how they referred to the native Celtic population, whom they displaced, murdered or enslaved.
It takes quite the brass neck to rock up to someone else’s land and then call them the foreigners. That combination of chutzpah and a lack of self-awareness can be seen to this day with ‘expats’ who move to the Costa del Sol, refuse to learn Spanish, and then complain about immigrants moving to the UK.
They used the word Wēalas to describe their lands; lands they went on to nick of course. That is where the word Wales comes from.
I cannot imagine that the Saxons who first called us walha or Welsh used the word in anything other than a pejorative manner.
Variations of the word can be found in other countries, such as Walloon part of Belgium.
The contrast with the far more benign etymology of the word Cymry is rather stark.
It is derived from the Old Welsh word combrogi, meaning fellow-countrymen or compatriot. Cymru is the land of the compatriots. I rather like the sound of that.
When the etymology of the two words are compared side by side it is clear that Cymry is preferable to Welsh.
It is certainly true that the historical roots of the word Welsh are ugly. But out of ugliness, beauty can sometimes emerge.
The meaning of the word Welsh has changed over the years. It no longer means what it did. It no longer means foreigner. I very much doubt that most Welsh people would even know the original meaning of the word – or care all that much even if they did.
I certainly do not regard myself as a foreigner in my own land.
People now call themselves Welsh with pride. That is because the word has been subsumed by a new paradigm. It is the paradigm of the Cymry; the paradigm of the compatriot. This is how it should be understood.
I still prefer the word Cymry, truth be told, and I delight in its etymology. But as a first language Welsh speaker that shouldn’t be a huge surprise. That however does not mean I believe we should be held captive by old meaning when it comes to the word Welsh. It is a perfectly good word and I will continue to use it.
The word has transcended its original meaning. Its meaning is now governed under our aegis.
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‘ People now call themselves Welsh with pride. That is because the word has been subsumed by a new paradigm. It is the paradigm of the Cymry; the paradigm of the compatriot. This is how it should be understood.’ Spot on – but it’s those 3 feathers that get up my pipe…and spelling cwtsh with a ‘ch’…
Whose feathers are those plumes?… and whose pipe is that smoking instrument?
I’m fine with Welsh, but I think there should be a campaign to remove these synonyms from thesaurus.com, replace welsh with any other peoples;
Synonyms for welsh
beat around the bush
pull a fast one
take for a ride
take to the cleaners
worm one’s way out of
Welsh is just a word we have been conditioned to …… so Im open minded to reverting to its native name …. Cymry (the people) … Cymru (the land area)
When Finns are asked who they are, they say Finnish, not Suomalainen.
Swedes say Swedish, not Svenska. They use these terms at home.
So, Welsh we are internationally, and Cymry (Cymro…) when at home in Cymru.
If the Chinese become the dominant power and the American century fades
we’ll have to do some more difficult thinking!
Well, I have to disagree on that. Danish don’t say they are ‘Danes’ to people who are also Danish. They say they are ‘Dansker’. Swedish say ‘Svensker’. Norwegian say ‘Norsker’. They would use the terms Danish, Swedish or Norwegian when talking to foreigners, yes. But I live in Denmark (and engaged to a native dane) and I have never heard them interrupt their Danish to include their English-coined ‘Danish’ as where they are from. Also, Finns will call Finland its native name. They speak Suomi, not ‘Finnish’. I think when you approach these things from a native point of view,… Read more »
And they’re all English words, no less! Welsh is the senior language of Britain and the Brythonic. Please. Show the respect that is deserved.
I think this type of discussion is something for us so called “culturalists” to get onboard with first ….. there are many much more basic facts and ideas to disseminate to the Welsh first …… I still meet many mainly older people who think Wales is just an English county or Principality
Camau bach / Small steps
I think the word Cymry has the same etymology as the word comrade so that is fine with me.
Instead of ‘Welsh’, I use the term ‘Cambrian’ more and more when speaking in English.
Might start doing same
Cymru Am Byth
I can’t understand why we as a nation who are not represented o the union flag or union jack are inclined to shroud ourselves in it if we were. It is a representing our neighbours namely Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. I believe the time is long overdue to address it. Would any Welsh person wrap themselves in the Italian flag for example.
I’d choose Italian flag over Union Jack
Cymru Am Byth
Wales doesn’t appear in the union flag because the Laws in Wales acts, as is explicit in the acts themselves, that Wales was annexed, i.e. basically incorporated as part of England. Which is why we have English law here, and not Welsh law. Contrast this with the separate legal systems enjoyed by both Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Surely speaking as a 1st language Welsh speaker Cymru is Wales where’s Cymraes a Cymro are Women and men in Welsh not Cymry.
Cymry means Welshmen or Welsh people (the latter includes women).
Might be worth checking Wales meaning foreigner: https://pedwargwynt.cymru/adolygu/gol/wales-englands-colony
Maybe its incorrect.
Mae o’n cywir. It’s correct, and also meant ‘slave’, as well as anything of inferior quality. So we’re inferior foreign slaves…
Personally, I’d like to see Cymro, Cymraes and Cymry come into common usage. And Cymru.
I always use Cymru (gwlad) and Cymry (people). Dislike the English names intensely.
I am not Welsh but my mum was From Brecon Cymru and my Dad was Irish , I have never really liked the word Welsh so Cymruambyth
And are we a gwlad or a cenedl?
Not a big deal really is it ? The thing that matters is our liberty, then we can go on to call ourselves whatever we choose. There again something as simple as “identity” is considered offensive by so many progressive folk who engage in these debates.
Ah Huw, I think you’re referring to ‘intersectionality’ there, which, when you think about it, is an idea that actually promotes identity, and how important it is, and that it should never be subsumed for convenience sake, and must always be an equal consideration along with all other factors. Which is why, in Wales, the Welsh identity, and especially the Welsh language are often excluded. How often have you heard of the Welsh language being excluded for reasons of practicality, or lack of resources, or because an organisation couldn’t (be bothered) find a Welsh speaker – in Wales FFS! Basically… Read more »
Welsh speakers call each other Cymry/Cymro /Cymraes… As let’s face it anyone East of Bridgend/Rhyl are not really Cymry anyway. So it’s quite handy to have “Welsh” as a band t h at differentiates between English people and Anglicised Cymry.
People are incredibly mixed all over this archipelago and have been for at least a thousand years. The mixing accelerated from the 18th century as the Industrial Revolution drew people from across Britain and Ireland to the many economically vibrant areas of Wales, whether that was the coal mines, the iron works, the railways, the ports, the china works, the terracotta factories etc. Obviously there are those who didn’t move around but let’s not forget the Welsh princes intermarried with the Normans, the Flemings and occasionally even the English so let’s ditch the line between Bridgend and Rhyl and leave… Read more »
Really? If you actually knew anything about how Wales industrialised you would know how peculiarly Welsh it remained until after 1860. Yes, industry did rapidly expand in Wales from the second half of the eighteenth century onwards, and even though the demand for labour was massive, Wales’ native population growth was more than sufficient to supply that demand – the birth rate in Wales was actually significantly higher in Wales during this period than in England, which had it’s own, slightly later industrial expansion to deal with. It wasn’t until the 1860s, with the development of the South Wales coalfield… Read more »
Dear me, let’s trash almost every one in Wales since 70% of the people live east of Bridgend!
I don’t mind being “born Welsh with an English Parent” but what you said is plain nasty.
Wealas is the plural of wealh. Wealas means foreigners and wealh means foreigner. Also, Saxons didn’t invade England as it’s named after the Angles a Germanic tribe. Genetive ‘Engla’ and ‘land’you get Englaland ‘land of the English’ in old English or Ænglisc ( as it was called back then). Engle +isc ‘of the Angles.’
The incoming Germanic folk mixed with the Britons. The old clean sweep ‘theory’ isn’t really favoured… Some say English has a Brythonic substrate but that appears in middle English for some reason. Written Ænglisc texts do not convey a Brythonic substrate.
Wealh in Englisc was from Proto-Germanic Walhaz which is said to be loan from the Gaulish tribe the Volcæ. Gauls were foreign too ie not Germanic…
Walnut comes from Ænglisc wealh hnutu ‘ foreign nut’ so the word didn’t exclusively refer to the wealisc.
According to John Davies in A History of Wales, the word Welsh may derive from a more subtle meaning than ‘foreigner’, ie ‘the Romanized people’. In that sense, the description Welsh could be seen as ‘those civilized, cultured buggers who think they’re better than us’. And that’s us Welsh through and through.
That said, I prefer Cymry.
So sorry flagged in error whist scrolling down now l can’t unflagg it ?
I like the word Cymry too. I think we need a word that describes the people of Wales that is not necessarily connected to people’s use of language. My children and grandchildren were born and brought up in Wales. Half went to welsh language schools, half didn’t. I speak Welsh but my husband doesn’t. It really makes my teeth itch when people assume that that English speakers in Wales aren’t as Welsh as Welsh speakers. I expect ALL my children and grandchildren to have the same opportunities to take part in the cultural life of this country. Having a word… Read more »
I have a different take on this https://diem25cymru.org/2019/05/25/wales-is-so-european/
So European, this is something everyone here in Cymru should be aware of.
The word Wealas was used for anyone not of Saxon origin. Therefore, those of Viking extraction were also Wealas
When we gain independence THEN we can decide what to call ourselves. For now Welsh with pride and Cymry with calon. Let’s not alienate English speakers at the moment as that would be counter-productive. Now that Maj has given the Buffoon permission to prorogue Parliament let’s hope that has been played to our advantage. Never has there been a better time to have a meaningful dialogue on independence. Neither of them are thinking about the people of ALL UK nations.
Dwi”n Cym.ro, siarad Cymraeh a byw yn Cyndi. But if im asked in English I’ll say Welsh!
“Every time I ask people here if they are British, they always say they are Welsh” – African taxi driver to me, in Wrecsam.
(btw , Agatha Christie had Hercule Poirot as a Walloon.)
Can we now get over this basic stuff, please?
(To the taxi-driver): Why wouldn’t they denote themselves as Welsh, or Cymry?
The Iñupiat of Alaska have changed their name for their Dene Athabascan neighbours:
In Common Brythonic, Wales was *Kombrogî, a Welshman was *Kombrogos, the Welsh language *Kombrogikâ.
It might take a while to convince the English to phase out Wales in favour of Kombrogî.
I fully agree, and have been saying this for years. The word Welsh as an adjective can be replaced by the convenient “Cymric” which is similar to the Welsh “Cymraeg” and “Cymreig”. As an aside, I highly recommend John Cowper Powys’ book Obstinate Cymric – he used the world often in his writings. His historical novel Owen Glendower is well worth a read also.
A Welsh Ph. D in linguistics, Gareth Roberts, states that the name Welsh comes from a huge Old Celtic tribe, the Volques (Tectosages, Arecomici, or even those who lived in Hesse, in today Germany). He says that when the Germanic tribes met the Celts in Britannia, they called them like the Continental Celts they knew, and if Wallas comes from Wolkwes, then it does not have a negative meaning at all.
The fact that the Anglo Saxons re wrote their history in Brittania, only speaks negatively about their own selves.
I found this version interesting and wanted to share it.
From https://old-engli.sh/trivia.php?ID=Wales The Germanic tribes of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded England in the fifth century and also brought along with them the word walha. They used it to refer to the local Romanized Celtic population. But the encounter between British Celts and Anglo-Saxons was not a peaceful one: The invaders quickly displaced, murdered or enslaved the Celtic-speaking peoples. Gildas, a sixth century British cleric, writes about his fellow Celtic countrymen: “Some […] were murdered in great numbers; others, constrained by famine, came and yielded themselves to be slaves for ever to their foes, running the risk of being instantly… Read more »