Concerning the Names
Gareth and Garth

by Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Arval Benicoeur

©1997, 1999 by Josh Mittleman. All rights reserved.

Last updated 6 Oct 1999

The name Gareth was invented in the mid-1400s by Sir Thomas Malory for his Morte d'Arthur,. Malory adapted his work from French sources, in which the same character was called Gahariet. That name was probably the result of a mis-reading of a Welsh name in some Welsh version of the Arthur stories. The first example we have of a historical person named Gareth is from England in 1593, but the name did not become common until much later [1, 4].

Gareth is often confused with Garth [1], but the names are unrelated in origin. Garth has two origins. There is a fairly common Norse name, Garðr (where ð represents the Norse letter edh, pronounced like the th in this, and the final r is nearly silent and not a separate syllable) [2]. It is not unlikely that Garðr could have been adopted into 11th or 12th century English as Garth, and a couple of northern place names support this theory [2]. However, it should be stressed that we have no examples of Garth or Garðr used as a given name in England in this period.

The modern name Garth arose from a third source, the English surname Garth. The surname derives from a Middle English word garth, "a garden or paddock", and was originally used for someone who tended such a patch of land [3]. Several 19th century authors used it as a character name, and it came into use as a given name in the early 20th century [4].

In sum, Gareth is a 15th century literary invention which was not used by real people until nearly 1600. Garth may have been used as a given name in 11th or 12th century England, but we have found only indirect evidence of its existence.


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

[2] Fellows Jensen, Gillian, Scandinavian Personal Names in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire (Copenhagen: 1968).

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

[4] Dunkling, Leslie and William Gosling, The New American Dictionary of First Names (Signet Books, 1983).