How did “How Green Was My Valley” influence baby names?

Richard Llewellyn’s 1939 novel How Green Was My Valley told the story of a Welsh coal-mining family during the late 19th century.

The story’s narrator was schoolboy Huw Morgan, eighth of nine* siblings, and the symbolic greenness of the valley referred to the fact that, over the course of the Huw’s life, the valley where he lived changed color from green to black due to the mining.

In 1940, How Green Was My Valley was the best-selling book of the year, and it won the National Book Award for fiction.

In late 1941, a Hollywood film based on the book was released. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards and ended up winning in five categories, including Best Picture.

Thanks to the book and the movie, two Welsh names (and one sort-of Welsh name) ended up appearing in the U.S. baby name data.

Angharad (Maureen O'Hara) in the 1941 film "How Green Was My Valley."
Angharad

Let’s go alphabetically, starting with Angharad (pronounced ahn-HAHR-ahd). In the story, Angharad (played by Maureen O’Hara in the film) was Huw’s older sister.

The name Angharad was a one-hit wonder in the data in 1943:

  • 1945: unlisted
  • 1944: unlisted
  • 1943: 5 baby girls named Angharad [debut]
  • 1942: unlisted
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted

While the name didn’t catch on in the U.S., one name-book notes that it “has been strongly revived in Wales since the 1940s.”

The middle element of Angharad has the same root as the Welsh word caru, meaning “love.”

Bronwyn (Anna Lee) in the 1941 film "How Green Was My Valley."
Bronwyn

Next we have the names Bronwen and Bronwyn. The first appeared in 1941:

  • 1945: 10 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1944: 8 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1943: 9 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1942: 8 baby girls named Bronwen
  • 1941: 7 baby girls named Bronwen [debut]
  • 1940: unlisted

And the second followed in 1942:

  • 1945: 20 baby girls named Bronwyn
  • 1944: 9 baby girls named Bronwyn
  • 1943: 10 baby girls named Bronwyn
  • 1942: 9 baby girls named Bronwyn [debut]
  • 1941: unlisted
  • 1940: unlisted

In the story, Bronwen/Bronwyn was Huw’s sister-in-law (the wife of his brother Ivor).

For the book, the name was spelled Bronwen, which is the traditional form of the name. It can be traced back to Welsh elements meaning “breast” (bron) and “white, fair; blessed, holy” (gwen).

But for the movie, the name was respelled Bronwyn, inexplicably. The film character Bronwyn (played by Anna Lee**) was typically called “Bron.”

Notably, one of the babies named after the character was Maureen O’Hara’s only child, Bronwyn, born in 1944. Her birth is likely what boosted the -wyn spelling ahead of the -wen spelling in 1945.

Which Welsh name do you like more, Angharad or Bronwen?

*The nine Morgan siblings in order were Ivor, Ianto, Davy, Owen, Gwilym Jr., Angharad, Ceridwen, Huw, and Olwen.
**Anna Lee’s five children were named Joanna Venetia, Caroline, John, Stephen, and Timothy.

Sources:

2 thoughts on “How did “How Green Was My Valley” influence baby names?

  1. I have always loved Angharad! Maureen O’Hara’s remarkable beauty, and her great acting in this and other movies, just cast a spell that made Angharad a truly captivating name. BTW, I understood that -wyn endings were masculine originally.

  2. I wonder if that explains the respelling — maybe one of the filmmakers spotted a male Welsh name with a -wyn ending and decided that Bronwen would look better with a “y.”

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