From Paul Williams in Wales
01 April 2005

There is a historical reason for the plethora of Joneses in Wales. Traditionally the Welsh had no surnames but used the formula ‘David the son of William’ (in Welsh Dafydd ap Gwilym).

When the South African rugby team took the field against Wales at the end of last year, they must have been bemused to learn that no less than six of the opposition were called Jones. It was highly confusing for the commentators as well. There is a historical reason for the plethora of Joneses in Wales. Traditionally the Welsh had no surnames but used the formula ‘David the son of William’ (in Welsh Dafydd ap Gwilym). After the Union with England in 1536, surnames soon became mandatory. So Dafydd ap Gwilym became David Williams. In the same way Rhys ap Ioan (Rhys the son of John) became Rhys Johns. Over time, Johns became Jones. Because John had been such a popular first name, Jones became the most widely used surname—closely followed by Williams, Hughes, Roberts and so forth.

Wales is currently celebrating the centenary of the great religious revival of 1904-5 which started in Loughor, near Swansea, and swept through the country. Its most prominent leader was Evan Roberts, a 26-year-old former miner and blacksmith. The revival had such an impact on people’s lives that public houses had to close and gambling syndicates went out of business. Hymn singing would take place during work breaks in the coal pits—and folklore has it that the pit ponies stopped responding to orders, because they were unused to them being delivered without swear-words. Ripples of the revival were felt as far away as North-East India. Among those taking part in the centenary celebrations last year were a group from the Hmar tribe of Mizoram, who had abandoned headhunting after being visited in 1910 by Watkin Roberts, one of those converted in the revival.

The £106-million Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, which opened at the end of last year, is home to seven resident companies, including the Welsh National Opera. The protruding dome of the front façade is dominated by huge letters. At night they shine out brightly; by day they serve as giant windows. The letters form into words, English and Welsh symbolically overlapping. And the words, by the poet Gwyneth Lewis, make poetry. The English words read, ‘In these stones horizons sing’. The Welsh words say Cael gwir fel gwydr o ffurnais awen—’Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration’.
MOBILE-FREE ZONE A sizeable chunk of Wales’s economy depends on tourism. How we market our attractions is a constant source of interest and debate. One of the Welsh Tourist Board’s latest posters declares, over a stunning view of Snowdonia, ‘AREA OF OUTSTANDINGLY BAD MOBILE RECEPTION’. The small print reads, ‘Travellers riding up the Snowdon mountain railway may experience communication problems. Your boss can’t reach you. Even dogged telesales reps struggle.’ One very good reason for escaping to Wales!

St David’s Day is celebrated by Welsh people the world over. Last year President Bush sent a message of goodwill, highlighting Wales’s ‘innumerable contributions to America’s history’. Eleven US presidents came of Welsh ancestry, he continued, and so did 16 of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. ‘American education owes a debt to the Welsh founders of Harvard and Yale Universities; American arts to Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sinclair Lewis and WD Griffith.’ A stone on the stairway to the Washington Monument is inscribed, ‘Cymru am byth!—Wales Forever!’

‘Do the little things’ is one of the few sayings that have been handed down from St David, who died in 589. His words were echoed by another Welshman, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his Christmas address. He warned about becoming mesmerized (and eventually paralysed) by the ‘big picture’. Rather than trying to ‘perfect huge plans that will change the world’, we ought, he said, to be asking, ‘What is the difference I can make, however small, in this place, at this time?’

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