Concerning the Names
Ceridwen, Kerridwyn, and the like

by Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Arval Benicoeur

©1998 by Josh Mittleman. All rights reserved

Last updated 25 Sept 1998

Ceridwen is the name of a supernatural character in a Welsh tradition loosely associated with the Arthurian cycle [1]. Although some character names from Welsh literature were used by real people before 1600, no evidence has been found that any real person used the name Ceridwen or any of its variants.

Ceridwen was the goddess of poetic inspiration and the mother of Taliesin, the legendary bard. Her name may derive from ceiridd, a form of cerdd "song, poetry" and gwen "white" [2, 3, 5]. The latter element is quite common in medieval Welsh names, but we have found no other example of a name based on cerdd.

The name appears in a variety of forms in period literature [6]:

Although there are references to the character throughout medieval poetry, the earliest surviving copy of the story about Ceridwen and Taliessin dates to the early 16th century, where the name appears as Keridwen [7].

The earliest example we have found of the ordinary use of the name is an 8-year-old girl in the Aberystwyth census of 1881. We do not know what spelling was used in the records. This example was part of a pattern of the revival of "old names" in the 1870s [8].

In the 20th century, Ceridwen is not an uncommon girl's name in Wales [5]. Many 20th century authors have used forms of Ceridwen as character names, especially in fantasy and science fiction, and some modern neo-pagans use Ceridwen as a name for the goddess. Consequently, the name has achieved considerable popularity in gaming and sci-fi clubs and also in some medieval re-enactment groups [4], where it is used in a wide variety of spellings: Ceredwin, Cerridwen, Keridwen, etc.

One modern variation of this name is Ceridwyn (also Keridwyn, Keridwynne, etc.). This variant derives from a serious misunderstanding of the construction of Welsh names. There are a few words and name elements in Welsh that have distinct masculine and feminine forms, and the ending -wen/-wyn is one of these. The ending -wyn occurs only in masculine names in Welsh (e.g., Berwyn) while the ending -wen occurs only in feminine names in Welsh (e.g., Ceinwen). Changing the name Ceridwen to Ceridwyn changes the name from a feminine one to one that can only be interpreted grammatically as masculine. (One of the reasons many people are confused on this point is the existence of an Anglo-Saxon feminine name ending that can appear as -wyn.) The use of Ceridwyn and its variants as a given name seems confined to the United States in the late 20th century, where it is used as a feminine name.

We have found no form of Ceridwen used as a personal name before the 19th century. Before 1600, it was exclusively the name of a super-human character in Welsh legend.

Notes and References

[1] The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales), trans. Patrick K. Ford. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977).

[2] Dunkling, Leslie and William Gosling, The New American Dictionary of First Names_(New York: Signet Books, 1983).

[3] Gruffudd, Heini, Enwau i'r Cymry/Welsh Personal Names_(Talybont: Y Lolfa, 1984).

[4] The name became so popular in the Society for Creative Anachronism that the SCA College of Arms decided to allow it as a specific exception to its normal rules of authenticity for approved names [Baldwin of Erebor, Laurel King of Arms, 29 Dec 1985 cover letter to the October 1985 LoAR].

[5] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

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

[7] Ford, Patrick K., Ystoria Taliesin (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1992).

[8] Morgan, Gerald, From Gwengwyfach to Gwenhwyfar and Back -- Naming Welsh Women, lecture, University of California at Berkeley, 1992.