Monday, March 12, 2012

It's a Small Word After All

Cultures are held together by their language. It is their language that binds people together and identifies their presence to others. For the genealogist, trying to understand a language that differs from our own is sometimes a complex task. This is especially true for those of Welsh descent who face a language (Welsh) totally different then the one spoken to the ear of the researcher. Words change, and their meanings change, and their common usage changes, and...on and on it goes. The following is such an example of words that have become confused for the genealogist.

Let's begin with the descriptor(adjective) "small". This would seem a simple thing, naming a "small island"...a "small tree"... a "small man". In the Welsh, the word "small" is "bach".(1) It was often used in a Welsh name to distinguish the smaller of two individuals that happened to share the same name, for example " Ievan ap Rhys"[ who would be bigger ] and "Ievan ap Rhys fychan"[who was the smaller by size]. It was written in the Welsh this way because the sound "b" was mutated [changed] to an "f" and word "bach" became "fach".

The Welsh also had different words for "younger" = "ieuaf" or "ifanc", and "young" = "ieuanc" and to make matters worse a word for "the younger" = "leiaf"! [The Normans also threw in their word for "young"= "jeune".

Now these adjectives appear very similar to the proper names "Ieuan", "Ievan", "Yevan", and "Ioan". Now just imagine if your name was "Ieuan fychan ap Yevan ieuaf". Were you the smaller, younger, or junior, and in which order?

It has become common for the genealogist to assume that the name "fychan" means "junior". [the youngest son of ] In reality, this may not be case. Likewise, several surnames have developed from the use of these adjectives among those writing down the records. "Fychan" has become the origin for the surnames "Vaughan" and "Jenkin". Wow, it's a small word after all.

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