Sunday blog at the Eisteddfod

Twm Elias, Eisteddfod

What's in a name?

There’s a cottage in North Wales called Two Hoots. As you can probably guess, this isn’t its original name. The new owners, for reasons best known to themselves, took offence to the Welsh name – despite it having existed since time immemorial – and decided to give it an easier-to-pronounce English name. To say that this didn’t go down well with the community is a bit of an understatement. After all, the cottage had been known by its old Welsh name by their forefathers for generations. Why should this newcomer rob them of this little piece of local distinctiveness?

They voiced their concerns, urging him to stick with the original name. The result of this plea became apparent a few days later. The name Two Hoots, defiantly engraved onto a new nameplate, eloquently describes the attitude of the new arrival to his new neighbours’ concerns.

This is one of the of the wealth of fascinating (and horrifying) facts that emerged in one of our Shed Talks today at the Eisteddfod. The speaker was Twm Elias, who is highly regarded in Wales as a broadcaster, story-teller, weather-lore expert and a driving force behind the excellent Llên Natur online repository of nature records and the cottager’s journal Fferm a Thyddyn.

Twm regaled the audience with the curious and often amusing tales that lie behind so many of our place-names. Amongst his entertaining explanations were the tale of the giant who gave Snowdon its original name, Gwyddfa Rhita Gawr, now abbreviated to Yr Wyddfa, and the village in Flintshire know as Sodom. The latter got its name due to the immoral behaviour of the lead miners that lived in that part of the mountain. The respectable locals’ nickname Sodom stuck, and it now remains as one of the more improbable biblical names that were adopted by so many towns and villages that emerged in the wake of the industrial and religious revolutions of the early 19th Century.

Twm’s amusing and spirited oration had a bit of a sting in the tail. Having convinced us that our countryside is a veritable linguistic treasure-trove to be celebrated and treasured, he then reminded us that although our historic landscapes and buildings are legally protected, their names can be discarded by their transient owners without any legal recourse.

It also served as a salient reminder to the National Trust that we are the custodians of so much more than the fabric of our buildings, landscapes and wildlife habitats.