Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Llewyn Davis's Name

What's up with the name Llewyn? I recently saw the film Inside Llewyn Davis and, like many name nerds, I was interested in the name Llewyn. I had never heard it before, so I did some digging. Llewyn. It looks like a real Welsh name. In the film, the character of Llewyn Davis also admits it's Welsh. In one scene, another character, Roland Turner asks, "what does the N. stand for [meaning Lou N. Davis]?" and David replies "Llewyn. It's Welsh."

Makes sense. It's contains common elements in Welsh names. Llew meaning "lion" found in the name Llewelyn (which was actually originally Llywelyn formed from llyw meaning "leader" and then altered to contain llew meaning "lion") + -yn which can either be just a diminutive ending, or a truncated form of -gwyn, which is the masculine form of a common Welsh element in names that means "white," but also came to mean "shining; radiant; pure; or holy."

However in my searches, Llewyn in that form, didn't show up in any of my Welsh name books. In fact, pretty much the only searches that came up for this name were for this movie, plus a small handful of people with the name (male, female and surname; most of them seem to American, but my search engine is probably biased to American results).

Did the Coen Brothers invent this name for the movie? Probably not. My guess is that this is a modern name, probably coined in the late 19th-early 20th century. Several Welsh names were coined in this period, such as Glynis/Glenys, & Glenda. *I have no proof of this, just a gut instinct.* There was a resurgence of  interest in Welsh names during this period, and many historic and mythological names that had lain dormant for centuries were brought back out again (such as Rhiannon and Dylan), or got a modern facelift and started being used, such as Gwyneth (possibly started out as Gwynedd or Gwenith).

Of course, being the Internet, people are going to now start sending me hate mail and tell me that I'm wrong and that I'm stupid and should be hanged for treason etc., so by all means, if you know the answer, let me know! Getting Welsh name books in the USA isn't always easy!

20 comments:

Nick Sron said...

Llewyn was certainly not invented by the Cohen brothers. In the US it is an uncommon name for sure, but based on the website http://www.mynamestats.com there are an estimated 25 people with the first name Llewyn.

The name Llewellyn is more common with about 3000 people using it as first name and more than 6000 as surname.

I enjoy your blog keep it up!

Anonymous said...

My wife is currently pregnant and we are interested in this name, should we have a boy. However, I'm not so keen on using an 'invented' name for my son, have been doing a little digging. A google search using the restricted terms "llewyn" and "welsh language" give a couple of definitions, both fairly old. The most common refers to "the point from which light radiates" while another claims it is the Welch word for Lynx. Both good strong conitations, althought both so obscure it's almost as good as made up!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Welsh and live in Wales and 'yn llew' simply means 'a lion'. Like some other languages, the noun would be put first, hence 'llew yn'. I don't personally know anyone with the name, but I do live in a predominantly English speaking part of South Wales, so it's possibly quite common further West or North. It's good to know that Welsh names are poplar in the US though. Anyone having a girl, may I suggest Caru (pronounced carrie), which means Love, or Seren (pronounced as it's spelled), which means Star. Two very beautiful names with beautiful meanings. Blodau is another (pronounced blod-eye)which means flower, Eira (eye-rah) which means snow, Befrian (bev-rian) which means to sparkle or twinkle. For boys my faves are Gryfudd (gruv-ith)which means strong (can be spelled Griphuid which has a different meaning i.e. the lord's hold, Aneirin (ann-eye-rin) the name of a prince of poets, Carwyn (carrwin) which means holy/beloved, Bleddyn (blethin) which means wolf, Brychan (bruckann) which means speckled. I could go on all day!
I read your blog often, but have not commented before. I hope you don't mind? Take care, and keep blogging! Hwyl fawr :-)

garicgymro said...

As a native Welsh speaker, I'm afraid you can't quite rely on the anonymous Welsh contributor's advice. The stuff about "yn llew" and "llew yn" is simply wrong. The word "yn" is not an article whether you put it before or after the noun. In fact Welsh has no indefinite article. This cannot be the origin of "Llewyn", which is best treated as a diminutive of llew, as suggested in the post. (Bleddyn, mentioned by the commenter, has the same origin with respect to blaidd, "wolf".)

I would also add that "caru" is a verb (so you'd want to call your daughter "Cariad", although that's not really a common name in Wales) and "blodau" is plural (the singular for "flower" is blodyn). There is also no Welsh name Gryfudd, except as an anglicised spelling variant of Gruffudd (or Gruffydd ). The name is pronounced griff-ith, not "gruv-ith".

I should add that I grew up in North Wales and have never encountered the name Llewyn. It's certainly a plausible Welsh name, but not one with any currency.

Owain said...

I (also a native welsh speaker) concur with garicgymro. Llewyn is not a name I have ever heard, and although I enjoyed the film, the name grated, as it's nearly Llewelyn and without the 'll' sound. Perhaps it's an American adoption borne from hereditary sentiment.

Coming from Llanelli, I often try to explain how to pronounce the 'll'. If you consciously think what you tongue is doing when you're pronouncing 'l', keep it there and say an 's'. Should come out as a 'll'.

I don't like the name Seren although it's popular in South Wales (east of Swansea). I've always associated it with a name for a horse.

HUW said...

Saw this film on a plane earlier in the year and also wondered about the name "Llewyn" - that's not all! Welsh Davieses spell their surname with an e - but mainly still pronounce it Dayviss. To add insult to injury his father was supposedly called Hugh - that's not a Welsh name either - I knpw, 'cos I'm
Huw Davies

David Thornship said...

I was curious about this name because it is also used for Josh Brolin character in I believe their earlier film "No Country for Old Men". He is one of the leads. Coincidence?

David Thornship said...

I was curious about this name because it is also used for Josh Brolin character in I believe their earlier film "No Country for Old Men". He is one of the leads. Coincidence?

Donna said...

My son named his second son born 7/8/2014 Lewyn. He found the name in a book he was reading at the time. At the time he had never heard of the movie Inside Llewyn Davis. They decided to drop the second L I think because their older son is named Elliott and thought maybe people would be thinking they were pretentious. Although we were surprised at the Baby's name we all love it now. His brother calls him Baby Lew.

Unknown said...

I was curious if it referred to the inspiration for Peter Pan whose name was peter llewyan davies

Unknown said...

I was curious if it referred to the inspiration for Peter Pan whose name was peter llewyan davies

LondonBoy Llew said...

My name is Llewyn & I never thought I'd come across another during my life time as I know it is a VERY uncommon name. Though, I did hear about this film when it released.

To my own understanding there was never any significance to my name based on origin, it was just a name my parents liked and decided to go for. Most people mispronounce or mispell or both even after I've just told them my name AND how to spell it; Louis, Lewis, Leroy, Liwen ect. It happens so often that even I am starting to question the pronunciation of my own name (just kidding).

When I was young my name was something that I didn't care too much about, sometimes I was a little shy to even say when introducing myself because I knew I'd have to spend a minute teaching.
If anything I probably would've changed it to something more common because nobody knew how to say it and I'd never see my name in any movie credits lol (as kids me and my brother would always look into all this oddly as fun, his name is pretty popular). Now that I've grown I find its pretty cool to have an uncommon or unique name, i actually find that quite a lot of people recognise or remember me because of it in a weird sense. For example, during my school days the teachers would always struggle to pronounce and spell my name when we first met, but after they got the hang of it they could never forget, even all these years later which was clear when I bumped into one of my old teahers at the supermarket now working as my grocery boy lol, how time changes.

Sorry for potential spelling errors, I don't have time to make ammendments to this essay. 😂 lol thanks.

B Zules said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Name numerology is one way to find out if you are truly compatible for the long term and it can be very effective.

Kay Kelly said...

I saw the film too. My son is called Lewin, which is the modern spelling of the Old English name, Leofwine, which means beloved friend. It comes from the Penguin Dictionary of First Names. Same sound, different meaning.

Anonymous said...

well i'm Australian and my name is Llewyn, i am one out of 1000 people out of Australia, just wanted to let you know that it's all over the world this name

geff said...

This man is on the money. I also grew up in North Wales, never even heard the name Llewyn until the other day (which is why i fell onto this post. Sounds to me like they felt Llewelyn was too difficult to pronounce so shortened it. Also all of the names that Anonymous suggested (even the misspelt ones) are cheesy af haha

geff said...

Also being a Davies that is constantly being pronounced wrong (Dayvees) i was once told that when a name registry was first conceived, there was a large part of the population that was illiterate and couldn't spell their surnames, hence the 3 (of which i have come across) variations of Davis. Davies, Daveis (i know!) and Davis. They are all part of the same lineage. Admittedly i've never fact checked that, but i'm happy with that explanation.

Y Bachan Main said...

Yesterday I saw the film for the first time. I'd wondered about the name since the film first came out in 2013. I came across this blog as I was doing a bit more research.

As a native speaker of Welsh, I have to say (like others in this thread) that although not a known Welsh name it is a plausible one.

As a common noun, llewyn occurs as a headword in Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (the University of Wales Dictionary of Welsh), and is explained as ‘llew’ (= lion) with the addition of the diminutive suffix 'yn'. The Welsh word ‘llew’ is from Latin ‘leô’, taken into the British language (which eventually developed into Welsh, Cornish and Breton) during the centuries of Roman occupation of the island of Britain.

It parallels ‘bleiddyn’, an obsolete word for wolf cub (from ‘blaidd’ = wolf, with diminutive suffix ‘-yn’), and (seemingly) the origin of the forename Bleddyn, revived as a male forename during the past century (probably in allusion to Bleddyn ab Cynwyn, king of Gwynedd in 1063).


The Englishman John Minsheu (1560-1627): in ‘Ductor in Linguas, The guide into Tongues’, an eleven-language dictionary published in 1617 mentions ‘llewyn’ which he translates as ‘a lions whelpe’. This is the only example of its use noted under the headword ‘llewyn’ with this meaning in the University of Wales Dictionary.

Llewyn also occurs as a headword in the dictionary as a variant form of the word llygwyn, the saltbush plant or orache.

The Welsh pronunciation of course is not the same of as the English one. In Welsh it is [ˈɬɛu̯ɪn] (southern Welsh) or [ˈɬɛu̯ɨ̞n] (northern Welsh). The American English form is [ˈlu.ɪn].

As for the surname, the different pronunciation of the spellings Davies and Davis does not hold good in the English spoken in the countries of Britain. Davies is the spelling almost exclusively used in Wales (and represents [ˈdeɪvis]), though many of this surname who emigrated to the States altered it to Davis at some point - maybe to maintain the pronunciation [ˈdeɪvis], as Davies was being misread and mispronounced as [ˈdeɪvi:z].

I presume the name Llewyn is used as a veiled joke because Robert Zimmerman changed his name (according to some accounts to Dillon and then to) Dylan, as a tribute to the English-language poet from Wales, Dylan Thomas.

Curiously, Dylan Thomas was a popular poet with the English and non-Welsh-speaking Welsh, but not much liked by Welsh-speakers for his rather contemptuous attitude towards the Welsh language and Welsh-speakers. His full name was Dylan Marlais Thomas, and his middle name referred to his great-uncle, William Thomas (1934-1879), a Welsh-language poet whose bardic name was Gwilym Marles [ˈmarlɛs] (a colloquial form of Marlais [ˈmarlai̯s], the name of a stream close to his birthplace of Brechfa, near Llandysul. The use of the Welsh form of an official English forename and a neighbouring stream or river was a favourite pattern for poets' pseudonyms).

Dylan Thomas's parents decided (probably for reasons of snobbery) to bring up their only son with no knowledge of their own language, and inevitably he became hostile to the language and in fact understood very little of his own background which was locked away from him. Having an unusual Welsh name did not help either.

His poetry seemed to mock the Welsh and this was why it was so popular with the English. Some of his (Welsh-speaking) contemporaries saw his deracination and identity conflict as a cause of his alcoholism and early death.

Dylan [ˈdəlan] was a name taken from medieval Welsh mythology and had not been used as a forename before. According to the wikipedia article on Thomas 'When he broadcast on Welsh BBC, early in his career, he was introduced using this pronunciation. Thomas favoured the Anglicised pronunciation and gave instructions that it should be Dillan [ˈdɪlən].'

Y Bachan Main said...

Continuation: (Dylan) The name is now extensively used as a forename - though not so much in Wales. Among the English-speakers, it is [ˈdɪlən] in allusion to Bob Dylan, and amongst the Welsh-speakers, it is [ˈdəlan] for the figure from mythology.

Maybe Llewyn will also become an accepted name, although the film makes it somewhat of a synonym of stubbornness to change and to recognise clear opportunities, and of rejection and failure.