Saturday, March 14, 2009

Radnorshire Surnames, Part One

Now and again I do some research on the development of surnames in Radnorshire: based on sixteenth century wills - when the traditional patronym system was still widespread; the 1670 Hearth Tax - when English style surnames exist side by side with patronyms and hidden patronyms*; and finally a sample of 3110 individuals who married in Radnorshire between 1813 and 1822 - when the modern surname system was more or less in place.

Looking at the 1813-1822 figures we find that the ten most popular surnames in the county are Jones (10.5%), Davies (7.2%), Price (6.6%), Evans (4.8%), Williams (4.7%), Lewis (3%), Griffiths (2.7%), Morgan(s) (2.5%), Powell (2.2%) and Lloyd (2%). Of course, all these names are derived from the old Welsh patronymic system and if we take the most obvious of these we find that that they account for 83% of the surnames in Rhayader Hundred, 80% in both Colwyn and Painscastle, 75% in Cefnllys Hundred, 70% in Knighton and 62% in Radnor.

The figures highlight some interesting differences between the six Radnorshire Hundreds. These Hundreds, which continued to exist as District Councils until Heath's disastrous local government re-organisation of 1973, were based on the traditional cantrefs and commotes of independent Wales - an organic structure rather than one imposed by dim-witted bureaucrats. The name Watkins, for example is the 4th most common in Painscastle and is also common in Colwyn and Radnor, elsewhere it is found only infrequently. The name Edwards is an exact opposite, common in Rhayader, Knighton and Cefnllys but hardly found in the old Elfael (Colwyn and Painscastle). The name Powell is infrequent in the old Maelienydd (Cefnllys and Knighton) while Prosser is common in Painscastle but absent elsewhere. A final example, Williams is found everywhere, although infrequently in Cefnllys, but in Painscastle Hundred it is far and away the most popular surname of all.

I wonder if these naming traditions reflect an ancient cultural difference between the more South East Wales orientated hundreds of Colwyn, Painscastle and Radnor and the north of the county.

*By hidden patronyms I mean how what appears at first glance to be a settled surname actually changes in each generation, so John Davies might have a son called David Jones etc.

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