The Origins of Seven Common Welsh Surnames

It’s a well-known fact that the most common surname in Wales is Jones, and it’s very likely you know at least one or two personally (we’d be impressed if you didn’t!)

There are many popular Welsh surnames, but have you ever taken the time to wonder where these originate from? We’ve been doing some digging to find out!

The History: Fixed surnames like Jones only appeared 500 years ago. Before this, the first name of the father determined the identification of his children. This was done by using the particles ‘ap’ (or ‘ab’) and ‘ferch’ (or ‘verch’), meaning ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’, respectively, to affix their baptismal name to that of their father’s. The process resulted in names such as John ap Howell and Rhys ab Evan.

The Laws in Wales act, 1532-1542, required the Welsh to combine these particles to form more traditional names, which lead to names such as John Powell and Rhys Bevan.

During these changes, an ‘s’ was commonly added to the end of surnames to indicate ‘son of’. This means that many modern surnames ending with an ‘s’ hail from Wales.

So, now we know the origins of the Welsh surname; however, Jones is just one example of some of the most frequently seen names. Here’s a list of seven popular Welsh surnames, and where they originated from.

Starting with…Jones!

In Wales, there are 170,633 people with the Jones surname – making it by far the most recurrent. The name originates from England and means ‘John’s son’, from the Latin ‘Johannes’.
The surname first appeared on record in 1273, with close to 15 percent of the Welsh population sharing it. Welsh icons such as Tom Jones have reinforced the association between the surname and Wales; though in fact, the singer’s real name is actually Thomas Woodward. Another fun fact is that when Wales competed in the 2008 Six Nations Rugby Championship, seven out of the 15-strong team had the surname Jones.

Davies

The second most common Welsh surname is Davies, deriving from the Pagan/Catholic name meaning ‘son of David’. Although the surname was made popular by King David of Israel in Medieval times, David became the patron saint of Wales, solidifying the popularity of the surname. Despite being more prevalent in South Wales, the earliest record of the surname was found in Flintshire, North Wales In 1392.

Famous people with the surname Davies include the Welsh rugby players Johnathan Davies and ‘Merv the Swerve’ Mervyn Davies, along with actors like John Rhys-Davies.

Williams

Coming in a close third with 110,404 records in Wales is the surname Williams, which arrived from medieval England – the earliest usage found on the English-Welsh border in

Breconshire and Monmouthshire. The surname has Germanic origins, introduced to England during the Norman Conquest. It is currently especially prevalent in the South of Wales but also carries prestige, in part due to the late actor Robin Williams, Wimbledon champions Venus and Serena Williams and the Welsh chef Bryn Williams. Another prominent figure was Edward Williams (1746-1826), who was the Chief Druid and bard of Wales, who was instrumental in helping to preserve the ancient Welsh language.

Evans

Evans is derived from ‘son of Evan’ and is the fourth most popular surname in Wales, but it is most likely to be found in Swansea! Evan is a derivative of the name Ifan, which in Welsh is pronounced Ivan, meaning ‘gracious gift of Jehovah’. The name has spread across the pond to America, with the Marvel actor Chris Evans being one of the most prolific

examples. Closer to home there are several famous actresses, singers, writers and athletes, such as Ben Evans who was an international Welsh rugby union player and Daniel Evans, a Welsh poet.

Thomas

Originating in Breconshire, South Wales, there are now more than 70,000 people in Wales with Thomas as a surname. Thomas was a popular medieval name, becoming common in the 13th and 14th centuries. The surname also has roots in Ireland, England and Germany. The name has spread as far as Kerala, India, where it can be found as a family name amongst the Saint Thomas Christians.

Hughes

The surname Hughes is derived from the Old French personal name ‘Hugh’ (meaning heart or spirit), which arrived in Britain during the Norman invasion. Hughes, an Anglicised spelling of the patronymic name Hugh, was first recorded in 1327. As of March 2020, there were 37,076 documented people with the surname in Wales and it’s more popular in North Wales than South Wales.

Finally…Jenkins!

The literal meaning of Jenkins is ‘John the Little’ or ’Little John’ and originated from the Devon-Cornwall region during medieval times. Whilst the surname was documented in 1086, it likely predates the Norman Conquest. Famously, Jenkins is the surname of Neath-born Katherine Jenkins OBE who has been popularised for her talents in opera singing.

If your surname didn’t make the list, but you’d still like to learn more about your family history, you can find out more about your own surname here 

Have we piqued your interest in learning more about your family history? In the future, you’ll have ancestors who will want to know the exact same things about your life too! That’s why at My Story Told, we want people to have something special to give their children

and grandchildren to inspire them and teach them about your personal story. To learn more about how we can help, get in touch with one of the team today.

What do you wish you knew about your family that ancestry searches can’t show?

The internet can provide some amazing facts to document our family history, but what these searches don’t show is the real person, or the emotions behind these moments.

The My Story Told team came up with a list of some of the biggest questions they would like to ask their grandparents or older relatives, if they had had the opportunity.

  1. My great grandparents emigrated to the UK, and I have always wondered if they found it difficult to adapt to life in a new country, and how they were treated when they first arrived. Was it difficult to learn a new language?

  2. Music is such a big part of my life, and I often think about the types of music my relatives enjoyed in the past, whether they played any musical instruments or attended any live concerts.

  3. Until very recent generations my ancestors were a farming family, and I would love to know more about the ins and outs of how they operated the farm, their personal stresses and enjoyments of the lifestyle. I think it would inspire me in my own personal struggles.

  4. My father was in the military and travelled all over the world, he told us lots about his life, but it was so long ago now that I can’t remember the details. I wish I could remember where his favourite place he visited had been, or places he would have liked to have explored himself.

In the future, our younger generations and their children will ponder these same questions. They will also want to know more about where they came from, and how their ancestors lived and experienced things in a different time.

Through the services at My Story Told, you can give your children and future generations the most personal piece of history that can be passed down for centuries to come – your own personal biography.

Or, perhaps you have a parent, grandparent or loved one who you would like to remember in their own words? Give them the gift of sharing their story with My Story Told.

Contact us today to learn more about the book-writing process and we can match you with one of our skilled writers.