Jacob Williams
Sunday 30th December, 2018

Terrible with names

Terrible with names

As December nears its end I imagine most bloggers, like me, annually revisit posts they never got round to publishing.

Only two failed to escape my drafts folder this year – the first of which I reproduce below, the other, tomorrow.

This one I never published because, in the face of opposition – or so I thought – the Welsh Language Commissioner rowed back on the plans which inspired the post.

It was the then draft proposal which, among other place name changes, would have seen ‘Cresselly’ trumped by ‘Creseli’ in the record of standardised Welsh place names.

The local opposition included a representation by two of my blog’s correspondents, to one of whom the commission replied saying:

“We are updating the List of Standardised Welsh Place-names in response to comments and enquires from the public and preparing a list of names for our Panel to consider anew/reconsider. Some of the Pembrokeshire names you mention have already been noted and will be discussed with the Panel. In fact we have decided to unpublish a handful of the names (Creseli, Begeli etc) until we are able to discuss the response further with the Panel. I hope that you will welcome this decision.”

And they certainly did remove ‘Creseli,’ ‘Cilgeti’ and ‘Begeli’ from their proposals at that time – I know because I checked, and consequently never published what I had written.

I thought the war was won, and that it was the locals wot won it!

That was until, following my annual look through the JW archives I did a bit more poking around.

Six months on, I’ve discovered that, since the summer these esteemed fellows of the commission had not only put their previously-withdrawn proposals back on the table, but without notifying my correspondent had approved them!

If we’re being honest, the work of this outfit will be of no practical consequence to these communities, and whatever its agenda-driven learnéd fellows say or do, they won’t really change anything – and that’s probably another reason I never gave this the oxygen of publicity at the time.

No doubt some of my readers will be of the view that ‘it should have been left unsaid,’ to which I say on this, the sixth day of Christmas: “Bah! Hwmbwg!”

June, 2018

Terrible with names

The Western Telegraph’s recent story on the Welsh Government’s contrivance to “standardise the spelling of place names across Wales” and the opposition with which it’s been met locally is well worth reading.

The Welsh Language Commissioner – somewhat strangely both the name of an office and an all-powerful title-holder (incumbent: Meri Huws) – aims to “eliminate multiple spellings of the same name” resulting in proposals which the WT says: “in south Pembrokeshire have been met with criticism for not taking into account their historical origins.”

These include that ‘Cresselly’ should yield to ‘Creseli.’

In an email sent to me by local residents who have registered their opposition, they’re told by a commissioner employee – with the title of doctor, no less – that: “a panel of experts in the field” advise the commissioner so that each recommendation “is made on a firm scholarly basis.”

Seemingly contradicting this ‘scholarly’ approach, the doctor continues: “…we don’t have the capacity to consult locally on all the place-names across Wales and therefore depend on the local authority in question to represent the opinions and current usage of local people living in these communities.”

Accordingly, a preliminary proposal was run past Pembrokeshire County Council in 2011 – to which no response was received:

“We shall contact the Local Authority again to seek their advice and evidence on current usage. The work on Pembrokeshire is ongoing as to date we have only discussed the larger settlement names and there are a list of smaller settlements where we require further evidence and research before forming our recommendations.”

I’m neither a Welsh speaker nor reader of Welsh language publications but, even so, in my six years as county councillor for Cresselly I cannot recall any knowledge of or reference to ‘Creseli.’

However I have seen misspellings – like the one made by the Western Telegraph whose article in one instance refers to ‘Creselly!’

With Morgans, Griffithses, Richardses and Harrieses among my bloodline, my family tree is pretty rooted in south-Pembrokeshire, so if the use of ‘Creseli’ is on a par with ‘Cresselly,’ it’s either passed me by uniquely or, as I believe to be the case, ‘Cresselly’ really is the only way this most cricketing of communities is spelt.

We’re told that the council won’t be forced, if the proposals are approved, to change road signs or other references under its remit from ‘Cresselly’ to ‘Creseli’ – as just one example locally – but the idea behind this story does matter socially and culturally.

It will make a difference – and be in no doubt that it is designed to make a difference – if future sat-navs, online references or old-fashioned paper maps refer to ‘Creseli’ exclusively: their cartographers having acquired their naming data from resources they unquestioningly take to be authoritative.

Creseli, remember, a name which isn’t used by the area’s English-tongued inhabitants, who are well-used to seeing bilingual signs including this one in neighbouring Jeffreyston:

Cresselly appears alone on this otherwise bilingual Jeffreyston signpost

Cresselly/Creseli is certainly not a case of standardising by usage or righting past wrongs like Llanelly/Llanelli, the latter of which is now the only spelling you’ll see used anywhere for Carmarthenshire’s and formerly Dyfed’s most populous town.

Such proposals, far from being ‘scholarly,’ would see the stealthy imposition of changes by government pen-pushers, and not by usage, local custom, and certainly not by popular demand.

These quangos should just come out with it – admit that they’ve got a political agenda – but they never will, claiming they’re doing a public service.

Locally this also includes their desire to see Kilgetty and Begelly give way to Cilgeti and Begeli – the latter of which, says local historian, author and Cresselly resident Rob Scourfield, is recommended: “even though the origin – again Welsh – is thought to be ‘Bugeildy’ (Shepherd’s house).”

I happen to know Rob and have done for many years, long before we became associated through his membership of Jeffreyston Community Council, which forms part of the East Williamston county council ward I’ve represented since 2012.

Mr. Scourfield’s well-penned history books cover architecture and culture from Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Powys.

His joint effort with Keith Johnson, Below the Landsker (2008) on the rich lingo below the Landsker Line is not just fascinatingly entertaining, but surely the best retrospective authority on the quirky linguistic history unique to this part of both Wales and the English-speaking world.

It’s difficult to see how Mr. Scourfield’s assessment of local history and lexicography could be ignored – and hopefully it won’t be as part of the Welsh Language Commissioner’s ‘scholarly’ approach to standardising names.

But can we really have any confidence in these self-admittedly resource-lacking and agenda-driven quangocrats?

Local MP Simon Hart has to be on to something when he says: “Local experts dispute the accuracy of these claims and as such they risk alienating the local community rather than inspiring people to unite around the language – that cannot be wise.”

It is interesting to note that, where there are very close differences between English and Welsh versions of place names, the commissioner’s anonymous ‘spokesperson’ openly admits to the Western Telegraph that Welsh takes priority:

“The Panel’s Guidelines state that if the difference between the Welsh form and the ‘English’ form consists of only one or two letters, the use of a single form is recommended, with preference being given to the Welsh form.”

So they possess enough self-awareness to realise they can’t hide their lack of objectivity, but perhaps not quite enough to see how such an approach could create tensions where previously none existed.

Just imagine the uproar if it was ever revealed that a view had been reached privately – not to mention boasted to the press – that similar-sounding English versions of place names should take precedence over the Welsh!

If a scientific or scholarly approach was taken, as claimed, bias in favour of one language over the other would be irrelevant – it should be determined by the facts and circumstances on the ground.

This exercise would do well to remember that the Landsker Line broadly delineates a part of Wales where the Welsh language doesn’t strongly feature in the daily lives of its no-less-Welsh natives, and that speaking the Welsh language doesn’t make a Welsh person more Welsh.

The WT’s online article concludes: “The spokesperson added that the place name standardisation panel is always open to discussion.”

If the responses to date are reflective of local public opinion – and I think they are – then the commissioner and her esteemed scholarly panel of experts might be even more widely open to ridicule.

Further reading:


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12 Comments...

  • Keanjo

    At the time the place name question was being discussed I was asked for an opinion and I recommended that the people living in the town/village should be asked to choose which they wanted and that name should be selected. That is still my view.

  • Wendy

    I wonder what they will manage to change Pentlepoir and Laveraux to?.
    I can hardly wait to find out what this panel have in mind for Hundleton, Bentlass, Wooden, etc…

    A complete waste of public funds. It would be interesting to find out the cost of the panel’s staff and subsequent administration, plus changes to signs, paperwork.

    Perhaps Pembrokeshire can opt out of this nonsense, we can keep our place names and use the funds for something useful!

  • Teifion

    Why not just have Welsh names, what’s so difficult in that?

    OK some English tourists will have issues pronouniciating them but so what?

    Never put me off going to Spain 🙂

  • Keanjo

    Wendy, they have Welsh translations for all. If there is no historical name they change it into phonetic Welsh.

    The Welsh Office once erected a sign on the A40 trunk road for ‘Pictwn’ which understandably annoyed certain people but the translators in Cardiff insisted it was correct.

    Eventually, when the sign needed replacement, it was replaced with the proper name of Picton.

    I agree with you, there are much better ways of spending money.

  • Flashbang

    I’m fairly certain Wales would have a much better economy if the funds devoted to all things Welsh language were diverted into the vital services such as hospitals and transport. But hardline ideologists hold the purse strings so force fed Welsh is the order of the day. Stupidity reigns supreme.

  • Henry Jones

    The leading reference book for Pembrokeshire place names is the two volume book researched and written by Dr. B. G. Charles entitled “The place names of Pembrokeshire”.

    The entry for Creselly in the Parish of Jeffreyston gives the following spellings:

    Cresselie 1572 Slebech, Crossely (e) 1521 Dynevor, 1603 OPb, 1612 Will, Crosseley 1572 Slebech, Crosselley 1601 Picton, Crosselly 1639 Cardiff, Cressely 1628 Cardiff, Croshelly c, 1547 Aug. The words in italics are the source documents.

    This would seem to be a Welsh place name with croes, Anglicised cross, as the first element.

    The second may be a personal name Eli or Heli or derived from Heli salt water or brine.

    Since this part of Pembrokeshire was thoroughly anglicised in the 11 to 12 hundreds, it would seem that Cresselly has little or no Welsh influence.

    To indicate the small Welsh influence in the area, in the 1891 census, the first to indicate the language spoken by each entry, there were 448 persons living in Jeffreyston of which 421 spoke English only, the rest, 27 persons, speaking both languages. Of the bilingual entries all were born in either north Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire or Carmarthenshire.

    The place name Cresselly probably did not exist prior to the Norman invasion into Pembrokeshire in 1093 and all the references, except one, in the 15 and 16 hundreds spell it ending with a “y”.

    I can see no reason to spend time and effort in trying to change our history. The Landsker Line and the dividing of the county into two distinct parts is something that should not be forgotten so why allow these spurious changes to take place, after all south Pembrokeshire has been called “Little England beyond Wales” since 1519.

    On the other hand have an English argument to change Rhoscrowther and Pwllcrochan, Welsh named parishes in sight of Norman Pembroke Castle, or to argue why Newport has been called Newport since at least 1215 would be equally nonsensical. Let sleeping dogs lie.

  • Bayard

    Meanwhile, down in Stackpole we have been saddled with the totally imaginary “Ystangbwll”, despite the name never having been Welsh, probably originating, according to Rob Scourfield, from Stakepool, or the stockade beside the pool, referring to the earliest incarnation of Stackpole Court and the lake below it, which, in those days, was tidal. So Norse or Norman, but not Welsh.

  • Sealight

    If half the money spent over the last 50 years on promoting the Welsh language had instead been spent on promoting the economy of ALL Wales there would be more Welsh speakers resident in Wales today.

    Why? More employment would keep more of our youngsters resident in Wales and all of them would have learnt Welsh at school.

  • Robert Bowen

    I’m fairly certain Wales would have a much better economy if the funds devoted to the extinction of the Welsh language were diverted into the vital services such as hospitals and transport.

    But stupidity reigns supreme when the death of one of Europe’s oldest languages is sought.

  • Flashbang

    Robert Bowen, the Welsh language will survive without having to force feed it to the 85% who don’t speak it, don’t need to speak it and don’t want to speak it.

    Nobody, least of all me is calling for its death, just getting a perspective on the money wasted on propping Welsh up.

  • Bayard

    The Welsh language will survive and thrive because parents bring up their children to speak it and the children learn English at school. Without this the language would die, no matter how much public money is wasted “promoting” it.

    As for place names, places should have the names the people who live there use to refer to them. If there are two different ones, for Welsh speakers and English speakers, then the place should have two names.

    What’s the point of making up a name that no-one knows to what it refers. These fake “Welsh” names actually discriminate against Welsh speakers: an English speaker, reading a document in English, sees the name that’s on the OS map and that all the locals use, but the Welsh speaker, reading the same document in Welsh, has to deal with a name that, even if it is marked on the map, no-one actually uses.

  • Cymro Dwi

    Bah Hwmbwg indeed Jacob.

    I can’t help but feel that your time would have been better spent continuing sticking it to the corrupt and pompous rather than straying into the pomposity zone occupied by those you regularly expose? No wonder you left this sit for a while.

    Having put my money where my mouth is having recently spent 7 years learning Welsh to a standard that my 90 year old first language Welsh speaking father approves of, I did think for a while of writing this in Welsh but would not like to put you, and most of your respondents to any trouble attempting a Google translation to get a poor version of my 2 pennies-worth on this matter.

    I suppose the above disproves Mr Bayards point and you cannot rely on parentage to pass the torch. In my own experience it was my grandchildren that finally got me into a classroom and to commit to learning Welsh. I have never been more content now that I no longer feel a stranger or uncomfortable when I meet other Welsh language speakers in my immediate and extended family.

    I must disagree with Mr Flashbang’s point that the Welsh Language is in the hands of hard line fundamentalists…even Plaid Cymru have adopted a bilingual stance so being ‘force fed’ Welsh is surely an exaggeration, maybe stupidity does reign supreme in his bubble but let’s face reality here.

    Does it matter what the place name was or is, or which brand of conquerors put their name on it? If so we’d still be living in Caledonia…are we going to change our cultural references back those of Roman times, Norman times, Anglo Norman or Cambro-Norman?

    Or face the very real possibility of a Welsh future where our language faces death by a thousand cuts? Henry Jones’s references to the North Pembrokeshire scholar Dr BG Charles’ work just illustrates how the dominant powers have written their own versions of Pembrokeshire place names over the years.

    Let sleeping dogs liE…no way Henry…if we all agreed to that Jacob and his fellow bloggers would have more time to do a proper day job rather than kicking those dogs in county hall who would rather we allow the dogs to keep sleeping so they can keep getting away with fleecing us.

    The sad truth is that the Welsh Language has been in slow decline and like it or not the adage of language being the root of all culture is still true.

    Urgent actions to get Welsh back into common use must include the re-Welshing of Wales! If our culture is to be respected and survive then we need meaningful references to be in Welsh, that includes place names and yes, a Welsh preference if required.

    I would not describe myself as a hardline Welsh ideologist, hell I’m not all Welsh…I was born in Scoltand, English mother, Welsh father, raised and schooled in Milford Haven and living in the Dock, but rather a concerned and pragmatic Welshman, uncomfortable belonging to a generation that has overseen further decline in our language, our culture and our history…I think that’s also why Mr Scourfield is learning Welsh and not Flemish, Jacob.

    Mr Flashbang’s assumption that we should put a price on our culture because money’s tight – my view is that it shouldn’t be seen as wasting it propping the Welsh language up, rather investing in a Welsh future. If budget is a factor then defer to the Welsh option as, after all we are in Wales and the Welsh Language act of 1993 fully recognises Welsh as having an equal footing with English in the eye of the law.

    To me your own statement regarding quangos with a political agenda seems a bit skewed, if you look at the long game it would seem to me the powers that be looking at providing a public service for the greater long term good of our culture and not on some insane power trip.

    As for maps and the names on them, Mr Bayard, are you serious about Welsh speakers being discriminated or confused by modern Welsh? Can you ‘actually’ back this statement up? I doubt it, as not one Welsh speaker I have discussed this with in the 10 years or so that I have had the joy of being able to converse in the Welsh language has ever said such a thing to me…maybe there are such Welsh speakers, just saying I have never encountered one.

    Local customs fine, let’s talk, blog, bluster and blow hard but we need our language back and if it ruffles a few feathers getting a solution that stops the decline in the use of Welsh it’s got to be worth it in the long game.

    Well said Teifion, most of the rest of you can toddle off to your subjugated past where Welsh culture and the speaking of Welsh was prohibited and punishable and the main reason my father never spoke Welsh to us or even to his own little sister openly.

    He and his siblings were severely punished by the misguided teachers foisted upon them, albeit in the desperate circumstances of the 2nd World War. It had a life long effect on them to the point that as a youngster I only ever heard them speak Welsh in hushed tones and to this day he still withdraws from any issue regarding the propagation of his own mother tongue. But to see him absolutely glow with pride when speaking to his great grandchildren in Welsh makes me very happy and to know that they also inspired me to learn our mother tongue is even better…and I know what they are saying about me!

    Shame on most of the rest you…

    Os nad ydych chi’n rhan o’r ateb rydych chi’n rhan o’r broblem.

    Diowl, I may be a bit of an ideologist after all!

    Cymru am byth!

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