Baby Name of the Day: Tegfan


Church of St Tegfan, Llandegfan

Church of Saint Tegfan; Image via Wikipedia

He’s Old King Cole’s pop, and an obscure saint, too.

Thanks to Gwen for suggesting her grandfather’s name as our Baby Name of the Day: Tegfan.

Tegfan is pronounced pretty much just like he looks – teg rhymes with beg and keg, and fan sounds like van.

There are plenty of Welsh names that end with -fan, like Cadfan and Iefan. The element refers to a summit or peak. Teg means fair, like in Tegwen.

Tegfan is among those elusive names nearly lost to history. We can find him, but just barely.

First, there was probably a Saint Tegfan. While there is still a church named in his honor, nothing is known of the original figure. Even the official history simply calls the church “very old.” There’s a seventeenth century bell and a fourteenth century baptismal font, but anything before that is guesswork.

Here’s a fun fact: some speculate that Saint Tegfan is a misunderstanding, sort of like our misreading of Sophia. The church is located in a village called Llandegan – Church of Saint Tegfan. Or maybe, possibly, church on the Tegfan or church at the Tegfan. It is possible that the name referred to the river or another geographic feature, and we mistakenly attributed it to a saint afterwards.

But there were men named Tegfan earlier in the historical record.

The nursery rhyme Old King Cole is thought to have some basis in a historical figure, and one of the leading candidates is ancient ruler Cunobelinus, also known as Cymbeline. Various genealogies list him as “ap Tegfan” – son of Tegfan.

Father and son were leaders of the Catuvellauni, a tribe not yet conquered by the Romans, though there was certainly contact.

Numismatic evidence – the coins that have survived – gives our best clues to their reigns. Tegfan would’ve been rendered in a gussied-up Latin form on his nickels: Tasciovanus.

Other possible forms abound: Tegvan, Tenefan, Trahayant, and Tecmant are also offered as the correct vernacular form of the name. Other Latin forms appear, too – Tenvantius, Tenuantius.

Let’s say this: Tegfan is the most common. I found a Welsh minister by the name in the 1900s; plenty of men answer to Tegfan over the centuries.

Today Tegfan would be an outlandish choice in the first spot – it just doesn’t quite sound like a name to modern ears. But it would be a great option for the middle spot, a way to pay homage to Welsh roots without resorting to more common choices like Rhys.

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11 Comments

I’d do this in the first spot, though with the -van spelling (I had nothing but sympathy for the Siobhan and Saoirse in grade school…). On the other hand I’m not of Welsh extraction and it’d feel a bit like naming my very white kid after Jomo Kenyata.

Is Tegfan related in any way to Teagan? I know several little Teagans and I could see more adventurous parents branching out and trying Tegfan in the first spot.

I love learning more about obscure names like this, so cool!

I don’t know whether Tegfan would be too odd in the first spot. It’s a legitimate Welsh choice, so why would that be any different from using another “ethnic” heritage name, like Gurvinder or Taghreed? (I know two kids under 10 with these names).

I have a question about the pronunciation. Is the -fan ending short or long? I think Tegfan would sound less unusual if the -fan ending were short, like if it rhymed with Edwin.

I love Welsh names! They almost always go against American sensibilities for naming, and that makes them intriguing.