What’s in a name?

Shakespeare once had Juliet call from her balcony, “What’s in a name?” The poor girl had just found that Romeo, the handsome youth with whom she’d flirted, was a member of a rival family that was her household’s deadliest foe.  I visited Verona a couple of years ago and went to see the balcony from which the lovesick teenage Italian uttered her words of frustration, but what I would have said would have been something along the lines of “How the heck is Romeo going to get up to me here?”

Juliet's balcony


Welsh words and names have always been a problem for non-Welsh folk, but the derision the language meets from others is usually deep down nothing more than a clumsy concealment of the mocker’s own inadequacies. The term “Welsh” itself is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “foreign” used by the invading heathens when the English first arrived on Britain’s shores from Germany during the fifth century A.D. – so theoretically the Welsh are foreigners in their own country. Very strange! The language is often mocked by outsiders and as a result we Welsh are rather touchy and sensitive when it comes to its abuse by others. I’ve a large collection of postcards, mainly of days gone by, in which the language is targetted by artists as a source of humour and this ridicule is clearly seen in the two below.


The next one is not so funny for a Welshman!

 Welsh names have always been mocked by the marauding English from across the border, but a basic grasp of the language’s phonetics can show even the densest of Saxons that it really isn’t that hard! I’d say their language is far more difficult…….and don’t get me going on English spelling!! I know a good percentage of them don’t even know the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re” let alone “two”, “to” and “too”!!

Anyway…….a quick peek at a copy of the 1907 “Directory of Granville Township, Pawlet, West Pawlet and Wells” in my possession shows me a good representation of Welsh surnames in the Slate Valley. In it you can find Davies, Edwards, Evans, Griffith, Howell, Hughes, Humphreys, Lewis, Lloyd, Morris, Owen, Parry, Powell, Price, Pritchard, Pugh, Roberts, Rowlands, Thomas, Williams and one or two with the surname Jones!  I came across a small group of these Joneses when I visited Middle Granville!

A few of the Slate Valley Joneses!

 I’m sure they’ll be very pleased with me to see this picture here, but hey……….they can’t touch me over here from over there……..can they?

When I visited recently I was taken to Elmwood Cemetery in Middle Granville by the above group to see my great-great-grandfather’s grave and as I previously hinted last time, I was to be a father again. The baby was due to arrive on 27 August and we’d been told that it was to be a boy, though we’d decided not to tell anyone its sex.

Names had been considered. We wanted a good Welsh name, a good strong Welsh name and also one that couldn’t be mutilated by a lazy Saxon! As we were wandering between all the Welsh gravestones at the cemetery, at a place about fifty yards away from my ancestor’s resting-place, my partner called my name. She nodded towards a gravestone and it was then that we decided upon the baby’s name. It read Griffith Hughes. It was a name we’d considered and liked – it seemed like an epiphany somehow and this stone led to that realization.

Griffith though, is the anglicised version of the name used  by the English who couldn’t cope with the original Welsh spelling, Gruffudd. Both are pronounced in exactly the same way. My son will be Gruffudd. In fact, my son is Gruffudd. Gruffudd Morgan Hughes and he was born prematurely on 23 June! Ten weeks early, but he is doing well – as is his doting mother!

Little Gruffudd and his dad

I have no idea who the Griffith J. Hughes resting in Elmwood was. All I have are his dates of 1852-1916 and that he was married to an Elizabeth, who lived from 1855 to 1950 – a grand old age! But when I get the opportunity this summer I’ll look into who this man was ….and I’ll get back to you!

When we stood below the Capulets’ balcony in Verona we were told of a local custom that claimed if you wanted good luck in life you had to place a hand on a certain part of Juliet’s anatomy on a statue of her in the courtyard.

Well I did so and I’ve been very lucky!

Ensuring good luck - Italian style!

Tan tro nesa’!


About slatevalleymuseum

This year, Slate Valley Museum celebrates its 15th year of exciting range of programs, exhibitions, and special events that share its mission to collect, catalogue, conserve, exhibit, and interpret materials, artifacts, machines, and information that demonstrate the geology of slate and the history of slate quarrying and the quarrying community in the Slate Valley of New York and Vermont. We invite you to join us and... explore... exhibits of historic artifacts from the area's renowned slate quarries and mills displays revealing the science and art of slate quarrying, and its influence on the Slate Valley culture a quarry shanty, complete with all the machinery and tools used in traditional slate quarrying a geological display illustrating the natural history of slate examples of how slate has been used in the structure and decor of local buildings and as an inspriration for artworks in various media and our new multi-media exhibit HEAVY LIFTING: A Human and Technological History of Moving Slate from Quarry to Market, 1850-Present
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