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.