The Meaning And Derivation Of Place-Names


Many people are fascinated by the meaning and derivation of place-names – so we’ll look at the names that are local to us in this area – before moving on to look at some further afield. The obvious place to start is at our feet – here in Wenvoe. But as you’ll see, that is not as easy as it sounds.

The first part is easy enough. The name ‘Wenvoe’ is the Anglicized form of the Welsh name ‘Gwenfô’. But when we come to attempting to explain the meaning and derivation of this name, scholars have classed it as ‘obscure’. So this is a great start to our series!

The earliest documented forms of the Welsh name go back to the twelfth Century but there isn’t enough evidence to state categorically what the original meaning was. And although the first syllable -‘Gwen-‘ could well mean ‘fair’ – or could be said to be very similar to the word ‘gwaun’ (meaning ‘moorland’) – with the second element -fa- meaning ‘place’ – these interpretations can only be guesswork – and guesswork is a big no-no in the field of place-names!

Many people have asked me why the Welsh name of the village sometimes appears as Gwenfô and at other times as Wenfô. Those of you are Welsh speakers or learners will be familiar with a feature of the Welsh language known as a Mutation. A Mutation is a change in the initial consonant of a word – depending on what word precedes it. Nine consonants can soften (Soft Mutation or Lenition), six of those consonants could also become nasalifed (Nasal Mutation) and three of them could become aspirated (Aspirate Mutation). This is the bane of learners’ lives, but really, it is only the polish on the language – and not mutating a word in a sentence doesn’t usually alter the meaning of that sentence. The consonant ‘g’ is one of the nine that can undergo a Soft Mutation – and the way it does so is by dropping off completely! We see this happening on road signs which translate as ‘Welcome to Wenvoe’ – ‘Croeso i Wenfô’. The preposition ‘i’ (to) causes ‘Gwenfô’ to mutate – ‘i Wenfô’.

Next month – Bro Morgannwg / Vale of Glamorgan