Concerning the Name
Gwendolyn, Gwendolen, or Gwendoline

by Jodi McMaster
known in the SCA as Ælfwyn æt Gyrwum

©1999 by Jodi McMaster. All rights reserved.

Last updated 4 Oct. 1999

The name Gwendolyn (alternatively Gwendolen or Gwendoline) is widely used in modern times and is popularly believed to have been a medieval Welsh feminine name.  In fact, the use of the name by real people appears to date only to the 19th century.

The name Gwendolen first appears as that of a literary character rather than of a real person. The name debuted in the form Gwendoloena in Geoffrey of Monmouth's work, Historia Regum Britanniae (c.1135). Geoffrey appears to have misread an Old Welsh masculine name Guendoleu as Guendolen, and then Latinized it, perhaps to make it sound more feminine to his readers. [1]  There are some Welsh feminine names recorded in the Middle Ages that begin with the same sound, which may account for Gwendolyn sounding as though it should belong in the same category: Gwen (13th & 16th C.), Gwenllian (13th & 16th C.), Gwenhwyfar (16th C.) [2,3]

We have found some modern references to saints that superficially support the notion that Guendolen was used as a medieval Welsh woman's name.  We have found no solid evidence to support any of them; however, it was not uncommon for later tradition to turn characters from legendary history into saints. One index of saints, for instance, lists a sixth century Welsh St. Gwendolen about whom nothing beyond a name is known.  We have found nothing to indicate that this is a feminine name
and the saint's name may be another reference to the masculine Guendoleu. [4]

Another reference lists a "Gwendolyn, Abbess in Wales" as having a feast day on October 31, but without substantiation, we do not consider it proof that the name was used in medieval Wales. [5]  There was also an eighth century Saint Guendelindis of Nidermu:nster, daughter of the Duke of Alsace and niece of St. Ottilia, and, according to one source, English. [6] Her name appears to be a French or English spelling of a Frankish name, perhaps Wandelindis.[7]

The first instance we have found of Gwendolen being used as a Welsh feminine name by a real person, rather than by a literary character, dates only to the 19th century.[8] Gwendoline was in use in England in the 1860s, and Gwendolen appeared in George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, published in serialized form 1874-6. [9, 10]. The spelling <-lyn> is an even more recent development.

Gwendolyn, Gwendolen, or Gwendoline was not recorded as a medieval Welsh feminine name for any real person, despite its appearance in a medieval history and similarity to other medieval Welsh feminine names such as Gwen and Gwenllian.


[1] Hutson, Arthur E. British Personal Names in the Historia Regum Britanniae (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1940).

[2] Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn. "A Simple Guide to Constructing 13th Century Welsh Names" (WWW: J. Mittleman, 1996).

[3] Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn. "A Simple Guide to Constructing 16th Century Welsh Names (in English Contexts)" (WWW: J. Mittleman, 1996).

[4] Rabenstein, Katherine I. "For All the Saints Index"  (WWW: Saint Patrick's Church (Washington, D.C.), accessed 25 Aug 1999).
A page within the site,, says the saints' existence is inferred from the place names Dolwyddelen and Llanwyddelan in Montgomeryshire and  the saints "were given a public cultus in Wales." However, it is more likely that the place names imply the existence of a personal name Gwyddelen or Gwyddelan. Padel, Oliver James. A Popular Dictionary of Cornish Place-Names (Penzance, England: A. Hodge, 1988).

[5]  "Celtic Orthodox Christianity Home Page" (WWW: Holy Transfiguration Monastery (Brookline, MA), accessed 25 Aug 1999)
The specific page which lists "Gwendolyn, Abbess in Wales" is

[6] St. Augustine's Abbey. Book of Saints (London: A&C Black, 1989) p.257, s.n. Gundelindis.

[7] Morlet, Marie-Therese. Les Noms de Personne sur le Territoire de l'Ancienne Gaule du VIe au XIIe Siecle, Vol. 2 (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1972) p. 216-217.  Names similar in sound are Wandalina, Wandelina, and Wendelinus.

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

[9] Yonge, Charlotte M. History of Christian Names (London: MacMillan and Co., 1884) pp.268-9.

[10] Dunkling, Leslie and William Gosling. The New American Dictionary of First Names (New York: Signet Books, 1983), s.n. Gwendolen.