If English is your first language, it’s only natural that you’d look at a name written in the Roman alphabet and instinctively apply English pronunciation rules to it. You see Naoise; you say “Nay-OYS”—when it’s actually “NEE-shuh.” That’s one of many examples liable to trip up anyone who’s unfamiliar with the Celtic language.
Welsh has its fair share of tricky names, too, from Awsta to Ynyr. But as you try your hand at the pronunciations below, bear in mind that Welsh—like most languages—encompasses multiple dialects and accents, so these names could sound slightly different depending on who’s saying them. The phonetic renderings in this piece are mainly based on a BBC audio guide on popular Welsh monikers, which you can hear aloud here.
But while there isn’t necessarily a single “correct” pronunciation for each name, there are certainly plenty of incorrect pronunciations. The Welsh dd, for example, doesn’t mimic the d in dog. To help you avoid some common pronunciation mistakes before we get to the names themselves, here’s a quick rundown of several Welsh consonants that might confuse English speakers.
Makes a “th” sound, like those in ‘this’ and ‘that.’ In other words, you use your voice box to utter it (as opposed to the voiceless “th” sounds in ‘thing’ and ‘thaw’).
Makes a “v” sound.
To make the Welsh “ll” sound, put the tip of your tongue right behind your front teeth, just like you would if you were about to utter a regular English “l” sound. But instead of using your voice box to make a noise, just blow out so air escapes on either side of your tongue.
The Welsh ‘r’ is always rolled.
The Welsh ‘rh’ is basically pronounced “hr” (and you still have to roll the ‘r’).
This Welsh version of Augusta is pronounced “OW-stuh,” where the “OW” rhymes with cow.
Bleddyn is “BLEH-THIN” where the “th” sound matches the one in that.
Ceinwen is “KAYN-WEN” (i.e. “cane when”).
Cadwgan is “KA-doo-GAN.”
This Welsh David is pronounced “DA-VITH,” where the “th” sound matches the one in that.
Dyfan isn’t “dye fan”—it’s “DUH-VAN.”
Geraint is “GEHR-INT,” where the second syllable rhymes with pint.
Heledd is “HELL-ETH,” where the “th” sound matches the one in that.
Hywel is “HUH-WELL.”
Don’t let all those vowels confuse you: Ieuan is simply “YEH-YAN.”
The first name of Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd is pronounced “YOH-ahn.” (His last name is “GRIF-ith,” where the “th” sound matches the one in that.)
Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon pronounces his first name as “EE-wahn” and his last name as “HREH-awn.”
Llewelyn is “lloo-EL-in.” (Again, to nail that opening “ll” sound, put the tip of your tongue right behind your front teeth, just like you would if you were about to utter a regular English “l” sound. But instead of using your voice box to make a noise, just blow out so air escapes on either side of your tongue.)
Llwyd is just “LLOYD,” but the opening “ll” sound is the same as the one in Llewelyn above.
The first name of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power star Morfydd Clark is pronounced “MOR-vith,” where the “th” sound matches the one in that.
Myfanwy said fast is essentially “muh-VAN-wee,” but it’s sometimes drawn out—especially in the classic Welsh folk song above—as “muh-VAN-oo-ee.”
This Welsh version of Mike is pronounced “MAKE.”
Owain is typically pronounced “OH-WINE.”
Rhian is “HREE-ANN.”
Sian doesn’t rhyme with cyan—it’s “SHAN.”
The Irish Sean and the Welsh Sion are pronounced the same: “SHAWN.”
Once you know Sion, Sioned is easy: “SHAWN-ED.”
Ynyr is pronounced “UH-NEER.”