origin and history of the names ‘Wales’ and ‘Cymru’


Briton settlements in the 6th century – settlements of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in Britain, circa 600



In the following, Briton will refer to the Celtic Brittonic-speaking peoples who inhabited Britain south of the Firth of Forth, and who, following the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century, gradually retreated until the area under their influence consisted of Strathclyde (until the 12th century), Cornwall, present-day Wales and Brittany.

Brittonic was the language of Britain in the Roman and early Anglo-Saxon periods, the ancestor language of Welsh, Cornish and Breton.


Of Germanic origin, the noun Welsh is from Old English Wealh, which meant Briton. In Old English, Wealh and its compounds or derivatives were occasionally used of foreigners more generally, particularly in names referring to Gaul or France and their inhabitants. For example, the Old English compound Galwalas meant Gauls, hence Gaul, and Rōmwalas, Rūmwalas, meant Romans.

– Notes:
1: In southern England, Old English
wealh was also sometimes used as a common noun to denote a slave or serf, probably on account of many slaves being of British origin in the Anglo-Saxon period.
2: Etymologically,
walnut means the nut of the Roman lands (Gaul and Italy) as distinguished from the native hazel. In the languages of these countries the words descending from Latin nux, French noix and Italian noce, when used without qualification, denote the walnut.

Similarly, the cognates of Wealh in other Germanic languages (for instance Old High German Walh, Walah) were used to refer to Romance-speakers. Other examples include Middle High German Walch, Walhe, which meant foreigner, speaker of a Romance language, specifically French person or Italian, and Middle Dutch Wale, which meant speaker of a Romance language, specifically Walloon or French person. Modern Dutch Waal has the same meaning. In modern German, the adjective welsch means Romance-speaking (it particularly refers to Romansh, the Rhaeto-Romance language spoken in the Swiss canton of Grisons).

These Germanic words were probably derived from a Gaulish name recorded in Latin as Volcae, first in Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War) by the Roman general and statesman Julius Caesar (100-44 BC). It was the name of several groups of Celtic people, especially a numerous and powerful people in Gallia Narbonensis, in southern Gaul. They were divided into the Volcae Arecomici and the Volcae Tectosages. The former had for their chief town Nemausus, the modern Nîmes, the latter, Tolosa, the modern Toulouse. For Germanic-speakers in the west, this name came to be used as a generic term for speakers of non-Germanic languages, originally Gaulish and, after the Romanisation of Gaul, also Latin and subsequently Romance languages.

Wales, the name of the country in English, is from Old English Wealas, plural of Wealh, which was often used to denote the Britons collectively and hence their lands. There was no unified polity in medieval western Britain, and the concept of Wales as a geographical, ethnic or political unit was a very gradual development. Old English Wealas could refer to Britons in Cornwall, Wales and northern Britain, and also historically to the inhabitants of other parts of Britain before the Anglo-Saxon settlement. Consequently, the name Wealas was sometimes qualified in order to denote a more specific application. For example, Cornwealas and Westwealas designated the Britons of Cornwall, Norðwealas the Britons of (parts of) Wales, that is, of north of Cornwall, Stræcledwalas the Strathclyde Britons. In each case, the word also denoted their respective lands. The compound Brytwealas usually denoted the early Britons.

In the Middle Ages, the Welsh territories consisted of several former kingdoms, subsequently ruled by princes. In the 13th century, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, prince of Gwynedd, established overlordship over all remaining independent parts of Wales and was acknowledged as Prince of Wales by Henry III in 1267 (Treaty of Montgomery). His principality in turn was conquered by Edward I in 1282. Edward conferred the title Prince of Wales on his son and heir to consolidate this conquest. Wales was formally incorporated into the English realm in 1536, and remains part of the United Kingdom, although granted partial self-government in 1999.


In Welsh, the name of Wales is Cymru, the self-designation of its inhabitants is Cymry (singular Cymro, masculine, and Cymraes, feminine), and the corresponding adjective is Cymreig. The name of the language (and the corresponding adjective) is Cymraeg. Cymro probably derives from an unattested Old Welsh combrog, co-lander, compatriot, from com-, with, and brog (modern Welsh bro), region. The latter word is cognate with Old Irish bruig, mruig, boundary, region, and with Old English mearc (modern English mark), boundary, sign, mark. By contrast with combrog, the Latin Allobroges, from Gaulish, meant those from another land. It was the name of a warlike Gaulish people who occupied the region between the Rhône and Lake Geneva.


Cambria was originally the same word as Cumbria, Latinised derivative of Cymry or of Cymru. Cambria and Cumbria were subsequently differentiated, the former being applied to Wales, the latter to the ancient British kingdom which included Cumberland. Cumbria continued to be used for the hilly north-western region of England containing the Lake District. The county of Cumbria was formed in 1974 from Cumberland, Westmorland and northern Lancashire.

The French name for Wales is le pays de Galles because in words of Germanic origin, when initial, the labio-velar approximant /w/ has regularly become the velar /g/. For instance, in the French noun loup-garou, garou corresponds to werewolf (loup was added when the notion of wolf expressed by garou had been forgotten), gaufre corresponds to wafer, and gardien to warden (English guardian is a later borrowing from French). This velar is spelt gu before the vowels e and i, as in guerre, corresponding to war, and Guillaume, to William.

One thought on “origin and history of the names ‘Wales’ and ‘Cymru’

  1. The Cymry, Aeolean bronze workers, goldsmiths, wine growers and farmers, are surprisingly the ancient tribe who abandoned Cyme in the time of the territorial advances of Cyrus the Great. They were led west to avoid enslavement by an incoming Satrap by Amorges, friend of Cyrus. Amorges was the progenitor of the Morgan Clan (Ancient Kournaovioi, an ancient term meaning ‘men of the well-lit ships. Ship lighting had just been discovered in the mid first millennium and allowed more travel by night. Right in time for fleeing Cyrus.) Herodotus wrote of the abandonment of Cyme by it’s people. The troops of Cyrus found an empty city with gates open. He said they used 60 Greek pentaconters to escape. Cyme had founded Cumae in Italia. They went there to begin a new life. Later, they went to Morges on Lake Geneva…a hotbed of a cultural melting pot where bronze age weapons wielders coexisted with stone axe wielders (Tectosages, etc,). The kings of Ancient Troy originally came from Cyme territory near Mount Chimaera. Wilusa was Troy’s name to its citizens. WLS is how it was spelled and where the word Wales derived. The Wilusan or Luwian tongue had no vowels. The spelled in consonants like epigrammatic Latin. The Cymry or Cymraeg were important Aeoleans in helping with the first declension, second declension, and third declension vocabulary words in Latin.


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