Concerning the Names
Corwin, Korwyn
and the Like

by Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Arval Benicoeur

©1997 by Josh Mittleman. All rights reserved

Last updated 5 Aug 1998

Corwin is not a pre-1600 given name. Although widely used as a Welsh, Gaelic, or English given name in modern literature, variously spelled Corwyn, Korwyn, and Korwin, it is found before the modern period only as a surname. We find no evidence of any form of Corwin used as a given name before the 20th century.

In England, Corwin is a surname of occupational origin, used for a shoemaker who used Cordovan leather. The Old French root is cordoan, whence Middle English corduan, cordewan and most significantly corwen (1483). The surname took many forms including Kordewan (1296), Cordiwant (1327) [1].

In Wales, there is a place called Corwen, an anglicized form of the Welsh name Corfaen [5]. It was recorded as Coruan in 13th century records [6]. This name derives in part from the Welsh word maen 'stone', and has no relation to any given name. The place name may have produced a surname; the surname Corwyn is recorded in the Isle of Mann in 1578 and is believed to derive from the Welsh place name [7]. However, since the bearer of the name originated in Cumberland, this example may simply be another spelling of the English occupational surname.

The modern use of Corwin as a given name apparently derives from the surname; there was a American Corwin Edwards in 1946 [8]. The name was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s in fantasy literature, especially Roger Zelazny's The Chronicles of Amber, in which Corwin is the name of a main character.

There has been some attempt to justify the name based on the late Latin name Corvinus or Corbinus, a derivative of Corbo, Corbus, or Corvus. These names derive from the Latin word corvus 'crow' [2]. That same root produced given names in several languages. In Italy, Corbus, Corvus, Corbinellus, and Corbulus appear in the 11th century, and Corvo, Corvino appear later [3]. In France, Corbinien is recorded in the 7th century [2]. The Latin corvus entered Old French as corb or corp and Middle French as corbel, corbeau. It produced a family of bynames and surnames including Corbeau, Corbin, Corby, Corblet, Corbelin and so on [4], but we find no evidence that any of these names were used as given names in French or Anglo-Norman. In particular, it is important to note that all variants of this name use a \b\ (1) or \v\ sound in the second syllable. There is no evidence of that sound softening to an \w\.

Alternatively, there is evidence of a rare Gallo-Germanic name element Cur-, which appears in the names Curardus, Curmerus, Corricus, and Churwalh and in the indirectly-documented names Curiald and Curo. The masculine element -winus is quite common, so Curwinus can be constructed as a possible 8th to 11th century Gallo-Germanic name [2]. There is no evidence that this name actually existed, and if it did it is unlikely to have been used much later in history or far from northern France.

The modern belief that Corwin is associated with the British Isles may derive from its coincidental similarity to some other well-known medieval names: The first syllable resembles the Gaelic Cormac, and the second syllable -wyn or -win appears variously in Welsh and Old English. However, these resemblances do not support the use of Corwin as a given name: In none of these languages are Cor- and -wyn both available.

In summary: We find no evidence that Corwin was used as a given name, in any spelling, before the 20th century.


(1) Pronunciation guides appear between backslash brackets, \ \, and are intended to be read as if they were modern standard American English.


[1] Reaney, P. H. & R. M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (Oxford University Press, 1995).

[2] Morlet, Marie-Therese Les Noms de Personne sur le Territoire de l'Ancienne Gaule du VIe au XIIe Siecle (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1972).

[3] De Felice, Emido Dizionario dei Cognomi Italiani (Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1978).

[4] Dauzat, Albert, Dictionnaire Etymologique des Noms de Famille et Prenoms de France (Libraire Larousse, Paris, 1987).

[5] Melville Richards, Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1969).

[6] Keith Williams-Jones, The Merioneth Lay Subsidy Roll 1292-3 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1976).

[7] Kneen, J.J., Personal Names from the Isle of Man (Oxford University Press: London, 1937).

[8] Tsuru, Shigeto, Japan's Capitaliism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p.18. My thanks to Suhuy for pointing out this reference.