Most Welsh surnames are patronymic; that is, they are derived from a personal name of an ancestor. In the Middle Ages, the prefixes ap, ab (son of) and ferch (daughter of) were commonly found in Welsh surnames. Welsh names used to include strings of patronymics going back through the generations, until the 16th century when people began to use fixed hereditary surnames. However, some surnames' prefixes can still be found today in many Welsh surnames, such as Prince, Probert, Bowen (ap Owen), and Beddoes. Henry VIII frowned upon this nomenclature and thus began the great change in Welsh surnames
But, until within quite recent times, say about the beginning of the present [19th] century; the practice of using simple patronymics prevailed in the southern counties of the principality; in other words the baptismal name of the father was the surname of the son.
Thus, if Morgan Richards had three sons; John, William, and Griffith, they would be John Morgan, William Morgan, and Griffith Morgan.
John Morgan's two sons, Peter and James, would be Peter Jones and James Jones.
William Morgan's two sons, Job and Abel, would be Job Williams and Abel Williams.
And Griffith Morgan's two sons, Howel and Cadwallader, would be Howell Griffiths and Cadwallader Griffiths."
As compared with other national and linguistic groups, Welsh surnames are comparatively few in number. Because of this, the use of bynames has become a common practice. A byname was linked with a patronym, and could indicate the occupation of the bearer, or perhaps a nickname. An example of this would be Jones the Post. In this case, the patronymic surname is Jones, with the byname, Post, a reference to the person's occupation, being used to differentiate this one person from others of the name Jones. The use of bynames was still common in recent generations, although they rarely appeared in written form.
Welsh surnames rank highly within a list of the ten most common surnames in Britain: Jones in second position, Williams in third; Davies in sixth; Evans in eight; Thomas in ninth; and Roberts in tenth.
- ^ Lower, Mark Antony Patronymica Britannica, A Dictionary of the Family Names of the United Kingdom, London: John Russell Smith Publishers (1860)
- Swyrich, Archive materials