Words and Names

The words 'Tra mor yn fur i'r bur hoff bae' in the Welsh National Anthem are familiar to us all, but how many of us know the meaning of pau in 'hoff bau'. You would not hear anyone use the word in conversation today. It is a dead word in the language with the exception, perhaps of poetry. Yet at one time it was a word much used in the Welsh language. It originates from the Latin word pagus meaning & country, region, province'. The Latin pagus gives us the French pays as in 'Pays de Galles', the land of the Welsh.

Pagus was used by the Romans to describe the people living in the pagus and in mid Wales the word became in common parlance Powys. It was a tendency in early times for the name of people to become the name of the land where they lived. This happened in Dyfed. A tribe of people names Demetae lived in South West Wales when the Romans arrived. A later form of the name of this tribe is 'Dyfed', but no one has yet been able to explain the origin of the word.

The Latin word pagus is also associated with the word pagan 'a peasant'. One living in a pau was a peasant. Also, a pagan was a person who lived in the country; one who had a lower status than a soldier of the Roman Empire. Early Christians considered themselves Soldiers of Christ, and it became a custom to call a non believer a paganus 'pagan'.

The earliest records available about Welsh place names were written by Greek and Latin authors. Around 150AD the mathematician and astronomer Claudius Ptolemaes (Ptolemy) of Alexandria mentions Maridunum in an essay on geography. Scholars who specialise in this field agree that the a in the word is a mistake and should be o, and that the correct name is MORIDUNUM. i.e. mori and dunum. If you remove the i from mori you get mor (sea). Without the um in dunum you have dun meaning 'fort' or 'city'. So, we end up with a combination of 'sea' and 'fort'. As the Welsh language developed Moridunum became Myrddin, and although the word contains din the word caer was added to it unnecessarily Caerfyrddin. The connection between the bard and wizard Myrddin with the town is historically unfounded.

Marian Davies