She’s almost a Welsh goddess and was one of the world’s first supermodels. But toy with the spelling, and she’s a boy.

Thanks to Allison for suggesting Bronwen as Name of the Day.

In the good ol’ US of A, Emersyn and Carsyn are girls. The y spellings are supposed to indicate femininity. Head over to Wales and the opposite holds true – Bronwen is a girl. Bronwyn is a boy.

Still, it is tough to argue with usage, and so you’ll find Bronwyn listed as a feminine appellation in baby name books, too.

The derivation might be obvious to name addicts. That gwen bit means fair – like Gwendolen. Bron means breast.

Janet Brownwen Alun Pugh was an aristocratic English girl who grew up to model tea dresses. She eventually became the inspiration for early 20th century fashionista Pierre Balmain. In her day, she was as famous as Kate Moss. (Though models earned a pittance compared to our time.) She dropped her rather workaday Janet in favor of her more exotic middle name early in her career.

Bronwen was more than just a pretty face. She married Viscount Astor and eventually endured scandal and widowhood at a young age. (The scandal toppled a prime minister, after a senior official in his government had an affair with a showgirl who also happened to be the mistress of a Soviet spy. The Astors hosted the party where the pair connected.) Bronwen picked herself up and has gone on to have quite the career in psychotherapy and random acts of kindness.

Strictly speaking, the goddess of love is not Bronwen, but Branwen. The two names have slightly different roots, nevertheless you’ll find Bronwen listed as a variant form and vice versa. Perhaps that’s because they’re used interchangeably in literature. (More on that in a minute.)

Spell it however you wish, this name has never charted in the US Top 1000. But she’s not completely unfamiliar. A few famous bearers of the name include:

  • Canadian poet Bronwen Wallace;
  • Australian poet Bronwyn Lea;
  • A handful of athletes and politicians using both spellings of the name.

While Bronwen sounds appealingly medieval, all of our famous Bronwens are 20th century figures and beyond. Like many a mythological moniker, it is tough to turn up a medieval bearer of the name. The fifteenth century poet Tudur Penllyn refers to a Bronwen. Some medieval versions of the Tristan and Isolde story include a character called Branwen, usually a cousin or other close confidante of Isolde.

On balance, I find Bronwen accessible despite her rarity. (I was sure she’d rank in the US Top 1000 at some point in recent history, but nope – I was wrong!)

She might not have a long history as a given name, but she certainly has literary and mythological roots. If you’re looking for something simple and frills-free for a daughter, Bronwen is one to consider.

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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What do you think?


  1. Senator Bronwyn Bishop is a famous Aussie politician. The name Bronwyn is not uncommon in Australia for 50+ women, though the more authentic Bronwen is hardly used at all.

  2. We named our oldest daughter Bronwen and love it. (well, obviously; we wouldn’t have chosen it otherwise) My husband’s ancestry includes Welsh but we both liked it from reading books by Susan Cooper and Madelaine L’Engle.

    Some people, like old men, don’t know how to pronounce it and think it’s a boy’s name, and I can see what they mean. It DOES sound a lot like all the 2-syllable surnamey names out there like Brayden and Bryson.

    But generally people who are younger, female or of a literary bent have heard of it before and LOVE it.