Concerning the Name

by Jodi McMaster
known in the SCA as Ælfwyn æt Gyrwum

©1999 by Jodi McMaster. All rights reserved.

Last updated 4 Oct. 1999

Prior to 1600, the name Arianrhod only appears as the name of a female Welsh literary character, considered by some to derive from an earlier divine figure.  We have found no evidence Arianrhod was used as a name for real women until modern times.

Although some name books interpret this name as arian 'silver' + rhod 'wheel, circle', and associate the literary character with moon symbolism [1], this may be a later folk etymology. The oldest surviving texts give the first element of the name as aran (the meaning is not entirely certain, but may be 'huge' or 'round'), an element that appears in several Welsh and Gaulish proper names. [2]

The preference for the Arian- form may be influenced by the existence of other Welsh names beginning with this element. Two feminine Welsh names with this element are found in more-or-less historic records, both for women who are said to have lived in the 5th century.  However the earliest surviving references to their names date to around the 12th century, as Arganhell (modern Ariannell) [3] and Aranwen or Arganwen (modern Arianwen) [4].

The specific element Arian- does not exist in Gaelic names.  There is a cognate Irish Gaelic element Argat-, which produced the names Argatbran, Argarma/r and Argeta/n, but these are all masculine names [5, 6].  We found no evidence of any feminine names based on Argat-.

There are also several historic names that begin with a similar sound but are unrelated to these Welsh names. There are the Italian Ariana and the French Arianne, both derived from the Greek name Ariadne, a mythological character.[7]  We have no evidence that either was used in the British Isles prior to 1600.

There are also some feminine Latin names based on the roots Arian- and Arrian-: Ariania, Arriana, Arrianilla and Arrionilla.  These Latin names were used during the classical period in places where there was a strong Roman influence. [8] They do not appear to have been used in the Middle Ages or Renaissance.

Arianrhod is a Welsh legendary name that was not used by real people until modern times.  A couple of modern Welsh names beginning Arian- may derive from medieval names.  Several names of Latin and Greek origin have a similarly-spelled first element, but are unrelated to the Welsh names and were not used in medieval or renaissance Britain.


[1] Gruffudd, Heini. Enwau i'r Cymry/Welsh Personal Names (Talybont: Y Lolfa, 1984) s.nn. Ariannell, Arianwen, Arianrhod.

[2] Bromwich, Rachel. The Welsh Triads (University of Wales Press, 1978) p.277.

[3] Evans, J. Gwenogvryn. The Text of the Book of Llan Dav (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 1979) (Facsimile of the 1893 Oxford edition) p.82.

[4] Bartrum, P.C. Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1966) p.15, 18.

[5] O'Brien, M. A., ed. Corpus Genealogiarum Hiberniae (Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1976).

[6] Royal Irish Academy. Dictionary of the Irish Language: based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials (Dublin : Royal Irish Academy, 1983) s.v. argat.

[7] Withycombe, E.G. The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press) s.n. Ariadne.

[8]  Solin, Heikki & Olli Salomies. Repertorium Nominum Gentilium et Cognominum Latinorum s.nn. Arianius, Arrianilla, Ariannus, Arrionilla (Hildesheim: Olms-Weidmann, 1988).