About Names: A Column on Gwyneth

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 27th column, he looks at the history of the name Gwyneth.

Gwyneth Paltrow

Most experts believe Gwyneth is an alteration of Welsh place name Gwynedd. The kingdom of Gwynedd was created in northwestern Wales around 450. After the Romans abandoned Wales around 383, Irish raiders settled there. Gwynedd is thought to be a Welsh form of either Irish “fían” (warrior band) or “Féni” (Irish people).

Native Welsh speakers defeated the Irish to found the kingdom. Then, in the ninth century, Gwynedd’s King Rhodri the Great united most of Wales under his rule. The letters “th” represent two different sounds in English. Teeth/teethe and Ethan/heathen contrast the two sounds. In Welsh, the former is spelled “th” and the latter “dd.” The final syllable of “Gwynedd” sounds like the middle of “weather.” It was natural for British parents to respell Gwynedd with “th” when giving the name to a daughter, ending it with the same sound as the familiar Elizabeth and Edith.

The first Gwyneth in the United States census was Gwyneth Williams, born in Rockland County, New York, in 1856 to Welsh immigrants David and Mary. Her younger sister was the first American-born Gladys.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Gwyneths in history!