On Anglesey not far from where I live, there’s a place with quite a long name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, Llanfairpwll or Llanfair PG for short. It has the longest officially recognised place name in Europe which was contrived during the 1860s by a local man who wanted to attract visitors to the town – with great success. It was originally called Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll.

The name breaks down into the following parts:

Llanfair [[ɬanvair] = St Mary’s church
– llan = church, parish, village
– fair = mair = Mary – the m of a feminine word mutates to f in a compound like this

Pwllgwyngyll [puɬɡwɨ̞ŋɡɨ̞ɬ] = hollow of white hazel trees
– pwll = pool, pit, hollow
– gwyn = white
– gyll = cyll = hazel trees

gogery = near the (not entirely sure about this part)
go [ɡo] = under (?)
ger [ɡɛr] = near
y [ə] = the

chwyrndrobwll = rapid whirpool
– chwyrn [χwərən] = rapid
– drobwll [drobuɬ] = trobwll = whirpool (tro = to turn, pwll = pool)

Llantysilio [ɬantɨ̞siljo] = St Tysilio’s church

gogogoch = (of the) red cave
gogo [ɡoɡo] = ogof = cave
goch [ɡoːχ] = coch = red

This post was requested by André Bosch.

This entry was posted in English, Language, Welsh.

12 Responses to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

  1. David Eger says:

    Just to dispel any belief that all Welsh placenames are absurdly long, there’s a small village about 13 miles NW of where I live, called simply ‘Llan’.

  2. a bosch says:

    Very interesting to see that there is initial voicing of the second word for the internal compounds but the rest of the name is just pure concatenation. This is presumably also the case in other long place names (like Taumata- in NZ), where it seems these names did not arise naturally but are just contrived strings of components. I’d also say this is in contrast to toponyms from polysynthetic languages where often the names are genuinely formed through the standard morphology of the language i.e. they are real, plausible words (but sometimes with other components as well). Always seems very curious from the lens of English.

  3. TJ says:

    …. and I thought pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanocaniosis was a long word…

  4. Rauli says:

    When I was in sixth or seventh grade, a Welsh woman came to visit our English class. She told us about that name and I’ve liked it and the Welsh language ever since. Although when I years later found out the name had been devised to attract tourists, my love for the name lessened a bit.

    I just love the sound [ɬ].

    By the way, the shortest place name in Finland is Ii, pronounced [iː].

  5. TJ says:

    I heard in France they have a village called “oo”; just when it comes to short names as well.

  6. LandTortoise says:

    @ TJ

    The shortest place name in France is actually “Y” which, bizarrely, means “there”. It’s in Picardy, northern France.

  7. d.m.falk says:

    Rauli: Many placenames are meant to attract tourism, migration or business, simply to either make it appealing or eyecatching or simply interesting…. After all, there are so many towns named “Hot Springs” here in the US, that one such town jumped at the chance to name themselves after a then-popular radio (later TV) game show…and to this day, they absolutely refuse to rename their town to something other than “Truth Or Consequences” (state of New Mexico). The now-60-year-old publicity stunt actually worked.

    Llanfairpwll did, at one time, had the longest internet donain name.

    (from Eureka, California- One of those place names meant to attract settlers and logging/minine prospectors…)

  8. Trond Engen says:

    The shortest placename in Norway is Å [o:], meaning “small river” — and a cognate with French eau, incidentally.

  9. Bill Chapman says:

    I’m afraid that this is not an authentic place name, but was the work of an unnamed tailor from Menai Bridge who devised it. Sir John Morris Jones, a leading Welsh scholar, called it “the blasphemy of a clown”.

  10. Kevin says:

    Notice that although llan has effectively come to mean “(parish) church”, the word originally referred to the enclosure in which the church stood, and that in turn derived from the sense of a cleared piece of land. The word is indeed cognate with English “land” (< Proto-Indo-European *lendh- "land, heath") — and with "lawn", from Gaulish via French).

    I find it fascinating the way a word's reference can change over time, or shift "according to the way you look at it". Take, for example, the following three cognates in, respectively, German, Dutch, and English:

    Zaun = fence

    tuin = garden — i.e. the cultivated area inside the fence

    town = (originally) farmstead — i.e. the buildings inside the cultivated area

  11. Rauli says:

    Similar to what Kevin said: I think it’s awesome how the same Proto-Indo-European root *bhel- (burn, shine) evolved into both the English word “black” (via Proto-Germanic *blakaz ‘burnt’), and the French word for white, “blanc” (via the meaning ‘burning’, ‘shining’).

  12. Vladimir says:

    Wow, that’s really amasing!

    It would be very interesting when you need to answer a question “Where have you been?”

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