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Top 10 Interesting Welsh Place Names

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Wales is a small country but one that is blessed with thousands of fascinating place names. Of course, the beautiful and complex local language, as well as its history, has lent itself to creating the names we have today. It is the combination of the pronunciation, appearance, origins and meaning of these names that make them so unique and so interesting, both to locals and confused visitors alike. For the sake of this article, let’s for today forget the obvious example of llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, even if it is an interesting story in its own right. We will aim to discuss places that are fun in their pronunciation, but also equally interesting in their meaning. Additionally, this list is by no means complete as there are too many wonderful names to choose from in Wales. However, here are some of the most peculiar, most fascinating and most noteworthy place names in Wales nonetheless. If you have any further suggestions, please do not hesitate to get in touch or write a comment below…

So, in no particular order, here are ten of the most enjoyable and fascinating place names in Wales...

Llantwit Major An odd name due to its combination of both English and Welsh in its anglicisation. The Welsh translation of the town’s name is, in fact, Llanilltud Mawr, meaning the Great Parish of St. Illtud. Making English language versions of names is nothing new around the world but this is a particularly farfetched one, finding ‘Twit’ from ‘Illtud’. Carmarthen

A statue of Merlin in Carmarthen
Merlin, Carmarthen

A name many beyond Wales will be familiar with, being one of the largest towns in south Wales of course and a stronghold in the area for the Welsh language. Perhaps a more interesting name than it appears though. The Welsh name for Carmarthen is Caerfyrddin (Cay-er-ver-thin), which translates literally as the Fort of Merlin (yes that Merlin), the town’s most famous son. How he ends up in the north, as a child, in Snowdonia, makes his life more confusing, but that’s a story for another day. Nonetheless, Britain’s most famous wizard was thought to have been born in Carmarthen.

Incidentally, any Welsh place name which starts with 'Caer' means fort, indicating a Roman presence up to 2,000 years ago, like Caerdydd (Cardiff) or Caerphilly. Llandrindod Wells Another Welsh place name that’s English form is a combination of Welsh and English, Llandrindod Wells developed as a spa town in the 18th century due to the healing qualities of the local spring water. Llandrindod, meaning Trinity Parish, sits in the heart of old Radnorshire, now within Powys. Today the town is known for being a stopover in mid-Wales for those on longer journeys. Blaenau Ffestiniog

Blaenau Ffestiniog in the snow
Blaenau Ffestiniog

One of the more challenging pronunciations to the untrained eye, Bleye-neye Festin-iog is one of the more fun Welsh place names to pronounce once mastered. The name Ffestiniog is thought to derive from a Welsh word meaning stronghold, while the word blaenau translates to highlands. Therefore ‘Stronghold of the highlands’ is an option, or perhaps more simply it is just two different words, stronghold and highlands, representing two different places that merged together as the area grew into the famed slate-quarrying site it became in the 19th century.

Betws-y-Coed Staying in north Wales, Betws-y-Coed (Betus-uh-Coyd) is a unique name in its own right and translates even more beautifully to “prayer house-in-the-woods”. It is thought to refer to the 14th Century St. Michael's Church, where the old yew trees are thought to be around five centuries old.


The River Teifi, running through Cardigan, in Ceredigion
River Teifi, Cardigan, Ceredigion

This is one of the more interesting anglicisations of Welsh names. Cardigan is really just an English version of Ceredigion, which is fairly understandable. But isn’t Ceredigion the name of the county in which the town of Cardigan lies? Yes, that’s true, however, the county was formerly officially known as Cardiganshire, and Ceredigion again before that. So Ceredigion, the county, became Cardiganshire, and the principal town of the county became Cardigan. To make things more confusing, the Welsh for Cardigan, the town, is not Ceredigion but Aberteifi (meaning Mouth of the River Teifi). Even more confusingly, or interestingly, Cardigans, as in the item of clothing, come from the town as well! The cardigan was named after James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, a British Army Major General who led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. It is modelled after the knitted wool waistcoat that British officers supposedly wore during the war. Incidentally, the balaclava has its origins in the same battle. Cwmrhydyceirw Pronounced Cumry-du-kai-roo, it looks a bit like ‘Cymru’ and a bit like ‘cwrw’, which is probably why it appeals so much. The English translation of the name means "the valley of the stags' ford", which is cool enough in its own right as well. There’s even a local pub named "The Deer's Leap"! However, the name of this north-Swansea village may even have been corrupted from its original, thought to have been "Cwmrhydycwrw" - a reference to the ale-like appearance of the local stream. Cwrw meaning beer, of course.