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Welsh Place Names Around The World

Wales is not widely renowned for its historic emigration around the world. It has not left the same imprint on the culture and heritage of other countries like the Irish have in the US, the Greeks in Australia or, for example, the Japanese in Brazil just to name a few, but Wales has definitely left her mark too. Many underappreciate the distances that the welsh have traveled over the centuries. So much so that there are a significant number of place names around the world named after towns, lanmarks and people from Wales. As you may expect this is most obvious in English speaking countries like the US, Australia and Canada, and especially England, but the influence goes further than that.


Let's have a look at some of the more unique, distinctive, interesting and unexpected of the Welsh place names around the world…


Donetsk, Ukraine

Starting with perhaps the most unique, we have the Donbass city of Donetsk, in Ukraine. Of course, the name Donetsk does not appear to have any Welsh significance. It is the original name of the city, Hughesovka, where the Welsh influence originates.


The fifth biggest city in the currently wartorn Eastern European nation was founded by a Welshman in the nineteenth century. In 1870, a man from Merthyr Tydfil named John Hughes, as well as about 100 workers and their families, left Wales on ships for what was then Russia. They built iron works and collieries and the town of Hughesovka formed around them.


The heavy Welsh and British influence of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries began to wind down with the Russian Revolution in 1917. The city eventually changed names from Hughesovka and eventually landed on the current name of Donetsk, which is still traditionally an industrial centre of the country.


Western Cwm, Everest, Nepal


The Welsh named Western Cwm of Mount Everest in Nepal, a nod to the Welsh origins of the name of the mountain.
Western Cwm, Mount Everest, Nepal

One of the best fun facts about Wales, especially on an international level, is that Mount Everest is named after a Welshman, George Everest. Even more unexpectedly, one of the more well known aspects of the world’s tallest mountain is its infamous Western Cwm. Cwm, of course, is the Welsh word for valley.


The Western Cwm is traversed by climbers using the southeast route to the summit of Everest. In Welsh daily life, cwm is most prominent in the title of the country’s most popular Welsh language soap opera, Pobl y Cwm (The people of the Valley).


George Everest was a British Surveyor General of India in the first half of the nineteenth century who was originally from Crickhowell. It was one of his proteges in India and his successor as the Surveyor General, Andrew Scott Waugh, who suggested that Peak XV should be named Everest, which had only recently been identified as the world’s tallest peak. Despite the Welshman’s objections, as he thought he was undeserving of the honour, the mountain has been known, at least in English, as Mount Everest, for 160 years now.


Carnarvon St, George Town, Penang, Malaysia


Carnarvon Street in George Town on the island of Penang in Malaysia
Lebuh Carnarvon, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Something of a personal favourite, as it was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon this street in Penang a few years ago; serving as it was welcome slice of Welsh life on the other side of the world.


Lebuh Carnarvon, or Carnarvon Street, was created in the 1860's, and named after Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, who was Secretary of State for the Colonies for a short time in 1866 and 1867.


Seeing as the town in which the street is located is George Town, named after King George III who was a former Prince of Wales, it was surprising to find that that was not the reason as to why the island contains a Carnarvon St, seeing as traditionally the investiture of the title takes place as Caernarfon Castle in north Wales.


Malaysia’s reference to the north Walian town is not the only Caernarfon in the world, with towns, streets and landmarks with variations of the name situated around the world, such as in the US, Australia and Canada. However it may be most surprising that there is one in South East Asia


Aberdare National Park, Kenya


A curious name but a seemingly familiar story. The locals to the region in Kenya where the park and its Aberdare Mountains are located do not necessarily use the English language name for the mountain range, but the wider park is well known as Aberdare National Park.

The mountain range is located within the national park, which sits just south of the equator. The mountains are known locally as the Sattima Range, but were named after Lord Aberdare, a man named Henry Bruce who was from Aberdare in south Wales, who served as a Liberal Party politician, including as Home Secretary, in the 1860s and 70s.


The politician and industrialist even has a statute in Cardiff, overlooking the Main Building of Cardiff University, of which he was an early patron.


The statue of Henry Bruce, or Lord Aberdare located in Alexandra Gardens in Cardiff's Civic Centre
Lord Aberdare statue, Alexandra Gardens, Cardiff


As for the Aberdare National Park in Kenya, it retains a place in history as it was where a young Queen Elizabeth was located when she discovered the news about the death of her father, King George VI, and that she had become queen.


Puerto Madryn, Argentina


The Monument to the Welsh Settlers in the city of Puerto Madryn, in Argentina
Monument to the Welsh Settlers, Puerto Madryn, Argentina

Y Wladfa, the Welsh colony in Patagonia, is widely known across Wales so does not need great detail here. To make a longer story short, in 1865 150 people from Wales left the northwest for Argentina in order to start a Welsh community. Their ship, the Mimosa, landed on the western coast of southern South America, 7,000 miles from Wales, at what is now the city of Puerto Madryn.


To find the Welsh influence in the area, including Welsh road signs, Welsh flags and tea rooms, one would need to explore the wider province of Chubut, but some Welshness lives on in the name of the area’s most prominent city and port. While Puerto may be the Spanish for Port, the word Madryn comes from Wales.


The name Madryn comes from an estate in north Wales, which itself takes its name from Saint Materiana. The estate, situated around the Llyn Peninsula, was owned by Sir Thomas Duncombe Love Jones-Parry, a Welsh landowner, Liberal politician, and one of the founders of the Y Wladfa Settlement in Patagonia who made the initial voyage in 1865.

The city is now a popular visitor location for travellers making their way further south, or as a starting point for whale-watching cruises in the south Atlantic Ocean. Incidentally the city features a prominent main thoroughfare called Avenida Gales (Wales Avenue).


Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, USA


A blog post like this is not possible without mentioning the United States, or more specifically the state of Pennsylvania. Western PA is probably the location in the world beyond the UK with the biggest collection of Welsh language place names.


Among them, and perhaps one of the more widely known Welsh names outside of the U.K. is Bryn Mawr. These are two very Welsh words of course, meaning quite simply Big Hill. It is a wide area spread across three townships outside Philadelphia, which is considered to be quite an affluent area made up of about 4,000 people. The townships themselves are incidentally named Radnor Township and Haverford Township, both of which are in Delaware County, and also Lower Merion Township which is in Montgomery County, so there’s a lot of Welsh in amongst all of that as well.


While there are other place of the same name around the US, Bryn Mawr, PA, is the most well known these days due to its prestigious private college, Bryn Mawr College, a women's liberal arts college founded in 1885.


Connections between Wales and the US go a lot further than this, be it via its place names, its discovery, Welsh founding fathers or even native American languages that sound Welsh…all have been covered in these pages previously.

 

They are just six of the best, or most interesting, fascinating or distinctive. There are Howells and Powells in most states of the USA, for example. There are Swanseas and Cardiffs in most English speaking countries in the world, as well as Bangors, Merthyrs, Conwys, Llandudnos (or at least variations of it) and more. We are so familiar with these names that they would not have come as any kind of surprise.


Argentina, of course, holds the most interest due to the prevelance of the language but also its place names are a little different to the other countries mentioned. Town names seem to focus less on being reproductions of major locations in Wales, but rather Welsh words that describe a place. For example, the province of Chubut features Bryn Gwyn (white hill), Glyn Du (black creek or black valley) and Trevelin (from Trefelin, the Welsh for Mill Town). This, therefore, potentially makes it the most intriguing of all the areas where Welsh names can be found.


Saying that, wherever you go in the world, watch out as a Welsh place name or a name with a Welsh connection may be closer than you think.

 

If you have encountered any equally interesting names around the world and would care to share them, please don't hesitate to get in touch, either via the comment section or even via email fogosfreetours@gmail.com. To learn more about the history of Cardiff and Wales other blog posts can be found across this section of the website. Alternatively, if you are visiting the country, don't forgot to book your place on a walking tour in Cardiff or Swansea. Thank you.





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