A welsh dragon. Found a very similar one on a ...
Welsh dragon; Image via Wikipedia

Emmett is big for boys. Rhys, Reese, and Reece are on the rise for both genders.

Here’s an obscure option that combines the best of both. Thanks to Shelby for suggesting Emrys as our Baby Name of the Day.

Emrys is a Welsh name, and there’s some debate about his pronunciation. Most guides list him as EM riss, and most YouTube videos confirm. But I find it hard to shake impulse to say EM rees. Maybe that’s just an American inclination to gussy up the pronunciation of a foreign name, or maybe that’s the similarity to Rhys.

But Welsh is phonetic, and the rules are clear. The “hy” in Rhys makes a long e sound, but Emrys sounds like Carys or Dilys.

If you can get over the possible pronunciation snarl, this is a versatile option, with ties to saints and wizards alike.

Let’s start with the saint. Saint Ambrose lived in the 300s. He didn’t seek out a career in the church, but eventually became bishop during a theological crisis. He went on to become a theological heavy hitter, and a major influence of Saint Augustine.

His name caught on, and in Welsh, Ambrose became Emrys.

Ambrose and Emrys are universally listed as equivalents, sharing an origin – the Greek ambrosios, meaning immortal. Emrys could be the Welsh version of Ambrose – like Betrys for Beatrice – or Emrys might be an older Welsh name that was linked with the saint’s appellation. Emyr means king in Welsh, and -rys is a common enough ending.

In either case, Emrys is a serious Welsh heritage choice. In the fifth century, Emrys Wledig was a military leader, fighting off invaders. In the same era, Myrddin Wyllt was a semi-legendary prophet. Geoffrey of Monmouth combined the two figures to create Myrddin Emrys to his retellings of traditional Welsh stories about King Arthur. Monmouth Latinized Myrddin Emrys as Merlinus Ambrosius, creating the enduring figure Merlin.

There have been Welsh men named Emrys over the years. Perhaps the best known is famed Shakespearean actor Emrys James, born in 1928.

Emrys is equally compelling as a place name. The ruins of the castle Dinas Emrys – the fortress of Ambrosius – stand in north-west Wales. The story goes something like this: King Vortigern chose the site for his fortress, but attempts at construction were unsuccessful – every night, the day’s work was undone. He’s told to summon a local youth – Emrys, known to us as Merlin. Emrys explains that a pair of dragons live in a pool under the fortress site, and it is their nightly battle that undoes Vortigern’s efforts.

Advice in hand, Vortigern frees the pair of dragons. The red one wins – hence, the flag of Wales, pictured above.

Despite dueling dragons and legendary kings, Emrys has a gentle sound. If you’re looking to honor Welsh roots, he’s a compelling option. With his -s ending, he’s quite stylish, fitting in with choices like Rufus and Silas.

The only challenge is one shared by surname picks like Emerson – nearly any starts-with-Em name is vulnerable to sounding like an alternative to Emma and Emily.

But Emrys is so rare that chances are your son would never share his name with anyone, except his legendary namesakes.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. I realise this is such an old post but had to share that I’ve had my heart set on Ambrose and Emrys for my imaginary future twin boys and only just put two and two together they’re essentially the same name hahahaha. I adore E names for boys, and ends-in-s-sound names for boys, so this ticks both boxes so beautifully.