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Encouragement and persuasion alone not enough to protect some of Wales’ historic place names

ENCOURAGEMENT and persuasion alone will not be enough to protect some of Wales’ historic place names, the Welsh Language Commissioner Aled Roberts has suggested.

Claims that Wales is “little by little losing its heritage” has seen almost 18,000 sign a petition urging the Welsh Government to legislate in a bid to prevent the loss of Welsh property names.

The campaign, which will soon be discussed by the Senedd’s Petitions Committee, refers to a “pattern throughout Wales where new owners are changing their house names into English,” and has been heightened thanks to the likes of former First Minister Carwyn Jones and comedian Tudur Owen highlighting place names which are in danger of being displaced.

Some high profile examples include Porth Trecastell on Anglesey – now often known as Cable Bay.

Meanwhile, Llyn Bochlwyd in Eryri (Snowdonia) – named after an ancient story involving a grey stag – has, due to the apparent shape of its outline, become to be known as ‘Lake Australia’.

In Gwynedd, despite the local authority noting that only nine out of 140 house names requests in 2019 were from Welsh into English, members of the local Welsh National Party group have called to hike the fee to do so from £55 to £10,000.

Meanwhile, the council’s deputy leader has since suggested that the planning system could be a way of maintaining control.

Speaking during a debate on indigenous place names in a Plaid Cymru hosted session during what would have been National Eisteddfod week, Welsh Language Commissioner Aled Roberts added his voice to the debate, stating there had been “too much talking but not enough action” over recent decades.

Noting that political goodwill is needed first and foremost, the former Wrexham Council leader and Liberal Democrat Assembly Member added: “I won’t sit here and say what legislation should be used or not, and there is room for co-operation with bodies such as the Welsh Place Names Society and thank them for their work in trying to persuade bodies such as the Ordnance Survey.

“But I think the time has come to go a step further than that… We need some sort of official status along the lines of areas such as Ireland, but in doing so and creating that political goodwill there is also a need for the necessary resources to be in place.”

Acknowledging that while the historic place name register was a step in the right direction – featuring 3,000 entries on the standardised list –  he remained concerned that the resources weren’t currently available.

“With all the work that’s needed in terms of educating and encouraging, if an authority or body does the work then they need to not only register the names and make them official but also to be ready to explain to the public and people moving to specific areas what’s behind these names,” Mr Roberts added.

“After that, it’s a matter for the legislation for what would happen if someone didn’t accept the body’s advice, but we need to start the discussion in moving the agenda forward.

“There’s been enough talk over 30 or 40 years but not enough action in my view.”

Bedwyr Rees, who has presented programmes on the coastlines of Wales for S4C, said that the loss of historic names often represented “losing our link with the past and our ancestors” which often represented clues to an area’s unique history.

Angharad Fychan of the Welsh Place Names Society added that specific legislation is in place in Sweden since 2000, with the Historic Environment Act aiming to project and preserving place names as part of the “intangible cultural heritage.”

There,  it is not possible to change place-names that are established by long usage unless there is good reason to do so, but she added that while similar moves in Wales may offer protection for house names, it would not necessarily have the same effect on geographical areas per-se.

Arfon MS Sian Gwenllian who chaired the session and who has also spoken out on the need for appropriate legislation in Wales concluded: “We must do something specific and statutory as far as I can see, and I believe there is a consensus within the community that’s concerned about this loss that statutory measures need to be introduced.

“Its exact nature is perhaps something for future debate but if that intention was made clear by political parties across the board, I believe we would see real movement.”


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