Anglo-Saxons and Welsh Patronymics

+5 votes
I've spent some time today looking at early Anglo-Saxon kings of Mercia -- lands in the west of England bordering Wales which later became Cheshire and Shropshire.  I've discovered WikiTree profiles of several of these Anglo-Saxon kings with names identifying their fathers and using the Welsh ab, ap and ferch forms to indicate son of and daughter of.

This surprises me, as I think the Anglo-Saxons had their own very different way of doing things.  But it's important to ask -- are there documented instances of the Anglo-Saxon rulers of England adopting the naming patterns of their Welsh neighbors, and in fact using the actual Welsh words?
WikiTree profile: Pybba of Mercia
in Policy and Style by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (353k points)
Jack, see my response to John and you below.

1 Answer

+3 votes
Best answer

Jack, for some reason I was looking these very profiles within the past couple of days, and I remember per looking at the Wikipedia article for Pybba. This statement stuck out:

Unusually, the names Pybba and Penda are likely of British Celtic, rather than Germanic, origin. 

Does this have any effect on this discussion? The source for this statement follows...

Higham, Nicholas J.; Ryan, Martin J. (2013), The Anglo-Saxon World, Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-12534-4, p. 143

by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.1m points)
selected by Susan Laursen

Thanks Pip (and Jack for asking the question).  Cerdic the first Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex and his father Elesa are also the thought to be British rather than Saxon.

The earliest Anglo-Saxon King lists did use a Welsh Latin patronymic for all the Anglo-Saxon kings (see here adding ing to all or part of the father's name) but I'm not sure that means we should use the more recent Welsh patronymic as the Last Name at Birth (LNAB)

I think that retaining the Anglo-Saxon state (country? area?) that they ruled as the LNAB might be the better option, given we can never be certain how many of these people would have been known.  Even the King Lists being written many years after these people existed.

John and Jack, the only difficulty I have is naming a king after “Mercia” so early in history. Granted, Mercia became a power from maybe AD 600 (and granted I need to read more focused history). Would Pybba, being British instead of Saxon, be better named from a tribal association? So, instead of a Welsh or Saxon naming convention, if a tribe could be identified would that not be a better “surname?” Just a thought.
We don't know that Pybba was British.  We know that his name could be Celtic.  The people in the area were of Angle ethnicity.  I don't think they would tolerate being ruled by a Briton, especially since the Britons as a group had been forced to migrate westward to the mountains in Wales, and continued to engage in war with the Angles.  

What I do think is a plausible way of tying up the loose ends is the possibility that while Pybba's father was Angle, his mother or grandmother may have been British or Welsh, perhaps captured in one of the battles.  A Celtic mother may have been able to suggest a Celtic name for her child.

I don't have a problem with the name "Mercia" for Pybba because he was of the family that ruled Mercia, and this fits with the Euroaristo naming convention that where someone might be "of Mercia", the LNAB would simply be Mercia.

The bigger LNAB challenge is that Pybba has a whole legendary ancestral line in WikiTree back to the god Woden.  I've just categorized the lot with Saxon Legendary Genealogy.  Cawley provides two different legendary pedigrees back to Woden in his FMG writeup.  These profiles are already marked questionable and will need to end up Disproven Existence since we don't delete profiles.  But currently their LNABs follow Welsh patronymics, which makes no sense for Saxon legends.  Perhaps since they never existed, finding the proper LNAB for them doesn't matter.  At any rate, none of this needs to be addressed overnight!
True that, all of what you said. Thanks.
I do not think all historians believe in the simple model of Anglo
Saxon and Welsh kingdoms always being strictly different things in the early phases of post Roman enthnogenesis. Guy Hallsall has argued that the evidence suggests that the Anglo Saxon language and culture developed initially among the Roman military posted in central Britain to defend lowland Romanized britons from less Romanized britons living outside the lowland agricultural zones. So I think he fully expects the early kingdoms, especially inland, to be like the later medieval marcher lordships, quite mixed. He suggests that there were later migrations of continental Germanic speakers who complicate the picture, a bit like the later Norse immigrations.
So since the more prevalent picture of that period's history is that the Saxons showed up after the Roman military left, Hallsall is saying that Angles and Saxons, and their language, were used by the Roman military?  And by corollary, he's saying that the "Romans" in the military defending Roman Britain, were not ethnically Italian, but Angle and Saxon?  

I remember reading that the Roman Legion in Palestine at the time of Jesus of Nazareth came from Spain.  So it is true that one should make assumptions about who the Roman soldiers were.
That many parts of the late Roman European military were mainly Germanic is not new or controversial information, and many aspects of Halsall's argument are surprisingly non-controversial. I don't know of any historian who says the Roman forces in England in this period were "Italian". Even in the early imperial times, Rome was using troops from other newly conquered places there, such as northern Spaniards, and Belgians.

Furthermore we have the example of the ethnogenesis of the Merovingian "Kingdom" (which first appears as a Roman military force deep in Romanized France) and before them we have the example of the Goths, where records are better. We know that the kingdom of the Goths was created by a mobile Roman military population which was at the time in Italy. Halsall thinks the Goths probably gave the other groups a model of how to handle the new power vacuum situation that was developing.

One of the simple points Halsall makes is that many of the archaeological artifacts which are called Anglo Saxon and Germanic are in fact often late Roman military. These are found deep into Germany, but what this shows is actually that, as we actually knew, people from Germany were having military careers working for Roman for many generations.

One of the results of simply looking at the evidence carefully is that there is not really much evidence for the western "Welsh" being the original inhabitants of "England". The English moved into the most Romanized part of Britain and picked up a lot of British DNA, and Latin vocabulary, but there is no evidence that they killed everyone, moved everyone, or even came into heavy contact with speakers of British languages.
All this is interesting, true, and useful.  However, at the level where one is dealing with a WikiTree profile containing very little information, uploaded by Gedcom 5 years ago and touched on very little sense then, whose primary source is an user-submitted family tree with no indication of further sourcing, and one finds an Anglo-Saxon monarch linked to his father with a Welsh patronymic form, one is faced with a choice:

1)  The profile, while unsourced in virtually every other way, embodies a sophisticated understanding of the complex relationships between early Anglo-Saxons and their Briton neighbors, or

2) The profile, which demonstrates a significant lack of interest in actual facts or sources or how things were done 1500 years ago, is consistent in reflecting a lack of attention to naming patterns.

I think the principle of "Occam's Razor" tells you that when you have to guess between two alternatives, the guess which presumes the simplest explanation is more likely to prove true...
My way of approaching those questions would be to check what the evidence is and what recent scholars say.

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