Thursday, October 05, 2006

Column, September 19, 2006

THANKS to University researchers we now know the Welshest place on the planet, and we know the Welshest name as well.
So if you are Gwyndaf or Einir and you live in Llangefni, then you are about as Welsh as it's possible to be. In fact you're so Welsh that English people will start talking Welsh in your presence, just from the power of your Welshness. A bit like Svengali, but with soft mutation.
We know this thanks to some analysis of first names and surnames which found that the people most likely to have a Welsh surname were men called Gwyndaf and women called Einir.
And an analysis of the ethnic origin of surnames across the UK found that the Welshest place in the UK was Llangefni.
They are no doubt celebrating on the streets of there at this news, and carrying any Gwyndafs or Einirs they can find shoulder high.
But would that those with a hankering for a Welsh-sounding name would stop at Gwyndaf. But no, no. Such is the desire nowadays not only to be Welsh, but to wear one's Welshness as a badge of pride, nay rebellion, that our children have been enlisted in the quest for uber-Welshness.
. Roll-call at any Welsh school can sound like a reading of the Mabinogion where parents have outdone each other in their desire to make their children as Welsh as Welsh can be.
There's an odd tendency for those with ordinary Welsh names to give their children the sort of Welsh name that no-one except a student of Medieval Welsh history has ever heard of. As if to say 'I'm Welsh, but my son here is really, really Welsh right, and to prove it I've given him a name which even I can't pronounce properly.'
The poor kid has to be sent to a Welsh-medium school, otherwise he'll spend his schooldays being chased by a baying mob. Then he either changes his name by deed poll or becomes a Welsh nationalist to avoid a lifetime of people giving him a blank look when he pronounces a name coined by Gerald Cambrensis.
Of course, The English can't claim any high ground here having blighted the world with unfortunately-named children. How many Kayleighs are there now wandering around wondering where on earth mum and dad got their name from, having, fortunately, never heard of Marillion, or Fish, their aptly mullet-haired lead singer.
Imagine seeing a video of that dirge and having your parents tell you that that is where they got your name. A lifetime of therapy would surely follow.
The worst people for this though are the Taffia, the professional Welsh, who try to out-Welsh each other at every turn, up to and including using their children's names in a competition to see just prove how immersed in the culture they really are.
Do you think they pause smugly at the font when the poor vicar christens their offspring with a name that has more double-ls than an Anglesey A to Z and turn to the congregation to see if they know what obscure Welsh manuscript penned in the Dark Ages they culled that beauty from.
What they forget is that unless they follow their parents into a Welsh university and a safe job in the herd of white elephants on Cardiff Bay, their name will hang round their neck like a Welsh Not.
Most children will grow up to be educated or make a living in England where their parents proof of a point might be a burden. The English will not nod appreciatively at the Celtic literary erudition of the name, they'll just mispronounce it...all the time.
The English mispronounce everything, even English names. While Gwyndaf is just about within their capabilities, anyone called Einir is destined to be called Ena unless she spends her whole life on our side of the border. And God help her if the English run her name through a spellchecker, as Microsoft suggests she is called Ironing or Martini.
Now, I know we shouldn't cow-tow to the English in what names we give our children, but then when we lumber our children with a name that sounds like an exercise in nasal mutation it's they who will be fighting the battle, not us.
If you have a genuine desire to preserve old Welsh names, then change your own name to something that makes you sound like a character out of Lord of the Rings, don't inflict them on your kids.
TESCO ought perhaps to have seen the folly of advertising just how 'local' all their produce was, after all, it's a catchphrase adopted by the shop in The League of Gentlemen, and few people would choose to buy their groceries there.
Now Tesco has had its knuckles rapped for deciding that, when it comes to Wales, 'local' encompasses everywhere from Port Talbot to Holyhead.
But they can hardly be blamed can they? If you fly your green beans in from Kenya and your strawberries from Spain, then the short hop from the valleys of South Wales will seem local to you, especially if you are a floppy-haired fop from an advertising agency for whom Wales is about as foreign as Azerbaijan.
Still, it does rather help with the excuses to be deployed to the nearest and dearest when next nipping out for a snifter.
“Where are you going?” she may sweetly inquire.
“Oh, just for a pint at the local,” you reply, before embarking on a three-day binge in the fleshpots of Cardiff.
Thanks Tesco, every little helps.


Ifan M Jones said...

Do you really expect the difficulty some English people have in pronouncing a name to be our prime concern when naming our children?

Why don't we call them Yoshi Yasako just in case they happen to move to Japan?

I don't cry myself to sleep every night because I'm called 'Ifan'. In fact I've never heard anyone with a Welsh name complain about it (apart from my friend Dylan who noted that some celebrities had started giving the name 'Dylan' to their daughters).

Whatever name I give to my child will a) be one I like the sound of, and b) reflects something of the family's history and culture.

I did my family tree last week and found a whole lot of Ifans, Enochs, Berwyns, Meirions, Cynogs, Gruffudds, Myfyrs, Aleds, Rhodris and Rhoslyns. Do you really expect me to call my child 'Bob Smith'?

Llewelyn ap Ifan it is then!

Nic said...

Look, say what you like about the Welshies, but you leave Marillion out of this. Them's fightin' words.

Nic ap Mihangel, Cymdeithas Roc Prog Cymru.

Kerry-Lynne said...

The Welsh name "mafia" are always on my case because my parents decided to spell Kerry the English way and not the Welsh one, even though both are Welsh.

Whenever I worked for the Western Mail I was always grilled on whether I was Welsh or not by anyone I was interviewing when they realised Kerry was spelt the way it is.

Perhaps a handy faxable family tree on my Barry/ Port Talbot/ Afan Valley roots will help the matter in the future.