Welsh Last Names: Meanings and Popularity

As the land of Dylan Thomas and medieval castles, Wales has a fascinating history rooted in Celtic origins. That history lives on in the country’s chapels, cathedrals, and rolling green hills. If you’re curious about your Welsh heritage, the first step is to learn more about the most common surnames, the Ancestry Team wrote.

About 500 years ago, Welsh families started passing their surnames from one generation to the next. That wasn’t always the case. Previously, Wales used patronymic surnames, which means that a child’s last name was based on the first name of their father. Due to this practice, people of Welsh origin share a limited number or surnames.

Common Welsh Last Names

Close to 50% of the people living in Wales share one of ten last names. While the most common Welsh last name is Jones, the meaning of the surname may surprise people.

Jones is actually one of many patronymic Welsh surnames of Celtic origin. This means that it derives from a person’s father’s name. In this case, John. Thus, John means “son of John”. 

Davies, second on the list of the most popular Welsh last names, is another patronymic name of Celtic origin and means “son of David.”

The surnames Williams, Evans, Roberts, and Hughes are also of patronymic origin and refer to a person’s father. Williams means “son of William,” while Evans means “son of Evan,” and Roberts means “son of Robert.” Hughes also means “son of Hugh” and is notably common in Anglesey.

Lewis is another on the common Welsh surnames that is not a patronymic name. It’s an Anglicized version of the Welsh name Llywelyn. 

Morgan is a traditional Welsh name that has slight variations in meaning. The surname is also a common gender-neutral first name and can mean “circling sea,” white “sea dweller,”“sea song,” or “sea born.” In contrast, Belth is a traditional Welsh last name that is rarely used today.

The 10 most common Welsh last names are:

  • Jones
  • Davies
  • Williams
  • Evans
  • Thomas
  • Roberts
  • Hughes
  • Morgan
  • Griffiths

Old Welsh Last Names

Old Welsh last names looked different from the surnames that are common in Wales today.

Although they used the patronymic naming system, adding an “s” as some of the examples above depict wasn’t how the Welsh started their patronymic surnames. Instead, they used the prefix “ap” or “ab” ahead of their father’s first name to create a Welsh last name.

“Ap” and ‘ab” act as contractions for the word “mab” which is Welsh for “son”. An example could be “Morgan ab Dafydd”, which translates to “Morgan son of David.” This naming practice was common until the 15th century when Wales began the process of converting to a fixed name system, competing the transition by the 18th century.

This makes it challenging for genealogists who are attempting to trace Welsh surnames back several generations. In many cases, there is no concrete way to connect the the Welsh surnames to the ancient Welsh last names held by ancestors prior to the 15th century.

Welsh Last Names and Meanings

A Welsh last name today is likely to have a patronymic meaning, which is why so many people in Wales share surnames despite having no relation to one another. Common Welsh last names and meanings derive from adding an “s” or “es” to the end of a first name and this suffix gives the person a “son of” surname.

For families who possess a patronymic Welsh last name, there is likely to be a family member somewhere with a first name that is the origin of their last name. For example, a Welsh family called Jones may be able to located a father figure in their history (pre-15th century) named John, creating the surname “Jones” for his descendants.

Other Welsh families who do not have a patronymic surname may find that their surname is historically connected to certain locations within the country. This can be a good place to begin your ancestry search. For example, the Welsh name “Bowen” (which comes from “ab Owen”) is most commonly associated with the county or Glamorgan. 

Related Articles on FamilyTree.com:

FindMyPast Added New Welsh Records

Learning About Welsh Ancestors

Any Famous Welsh Ancestors?

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