Throughout this website – and indeed throughout Wales – you'll be confronted with place names which, unless you're a Welsh speaker, will mean nothing to you at all except yet another damn pronunciation hurdle to overcome. And it goes without saying you won't have the slightest clue about the meanings of Welsh places names either. A native Welsh speaker, however, will have a pretty good idea what many of his country's place names mean. Welsh, while it has certainly changed over time, is still recogisably the same language spoken a thousand years ago, a time from which many of our place names owe their origins. This can't be said of English places names, however, whose meanings are comprehensible now only to a student of Anglo-Saxon, a group of Germanic dialects spoken by the English before the Normans brought their French language to these shores in 1066, leaving the English language – and the English themselves – forever changed. Today we can read and understand the English written by William Shakespeare 400 years ago but, significantly, Shakespeare himself could not have understood the English written 400 years before his own time.

Welsh place names are usually quite descriptive, either of the local geography or notable features. Most also use the same construction as if you were denoting possession. So, Abertawe or 'the estuary of the Tawe', (as opposed to 'the Tawe's estuary'). Thus Brynmawr is 'big hill', Penrhyndeudraeth is 'the headland of the two beaches', Beddgelert is 'the grave of Celert' (more likely Saint Celert, rather than Gelert, Prince Llewelyn ap Iorwerth's faithful dog, as is popularly thought) and "llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch" is of course 'the church of St Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of Tysilio by the red cave', but no doubt you've guessed that already. It started off as plain old Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, but in the 1880s a Menai Bridge tailor decided to add a few more syllables as a bit of a publicity stunt to pull in the tourists. It worked, too.

For your assistance here are just the most common Welsh words used in place names. Beware though, as some of the words change a letter at the front of the word in certain grammatical circumstances.

aber = river mouth or estuary;
confluence of two rivers
afon = river
allt = cliff, or wooded hill
aran = high place
bach = small, lesser
bedw = birch
bedd = grave
betws = prayer-house
brenin = king
bron = slope of a hill
bryn = hill
bwlch = mountain pass, gap
cadair = chair, stronghold
cae = field
caer = fortified settlement (like '-chester', '-burgh' or '-bury' in English)
canol = centre
cant = hundred
capel = chapel
carreg = stone
cartref = home
castell = castle
cefn = ridge
celyn = holly
clun = meadow
clwyd = gate, perch
côch = red
coed = forest, woodland
cors = bog
craig = rock
croes = cross
croeso = welcome
cwm = bowl-shaped glacial valley
cwrt = court
cyntaf = first
de = south
derw = oak
din/dinas = fort, city
dros = over
du = black
dwfr, dwr = water
dwyrain = east
dyffryn = valley (broad, flat river valley)
eglwys = church
eryri = eagle's domain
fawr = big
fferm = farm
ffordd = road
fforest = forest
gardd = garden
gelli = grove
glan = shore, bank
glâs = blue (sometimes green)
glo = coal
glyn = valley (like the English 'vale')
gogledd = north
gorllewin = west
gorsaf = station
gwaun = meadow, field, moor
gwlad = country
gwyn = white
gwyrdd = green
hên = old
heol = road
is, isa(f) = lower
llan = clearing, early church
llannerch = glade
lle = place
llech, llechen = slate, flat stone
llwybr = path
llwyd = grey
llwyn = grove
llyn = lake
llys = palace, court
man (also ma, fan, fa)= place, spot, quarter
maen = stone
maes = field
marchnad = market
mawr, fawr = great
melin = mill
melyn = yellow
merthyr = burial place of a saint
moel = bare or rounded mountain
môr = sea
morfa = coastal marsh
mynydd = mountain
nant = stream, brook
neuadd = hall
newydd = new
nôs = night
ogof = cave
olaf = last
onn = ash
pant = hollow (valley)
parc = park, field
pen = head, top of a valley
penrhyn = headland
pentre(f) = village
plâs = hall, mansion
pont = bridge
porth = port, gateway
pwll = pool
rhiw = hill, ascent
rhos = moor, heath
rhyd = ford
sant = saint
sarn = causeway
sir = shire, county
tâf = dark
tan, dan = under
tomen = mound
traeth = beach
traws = cross
tref = town
twr = tower
ty, tai = house, houses
ucha(f) = upper
uwch = higher
wrth = near, by
y, yr, 'r = the
ynys = island
ystrad = valley (like the English 'vale')

Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010