Welsh (surname)

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Welsh is a surname from the Anglo-Saxon language given to the Celtic Britons. The surname can also be the result of anglicization of the German cognate Welsch.


It appears that the etymology of the name Welsh is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word wilisc meaning 'foreigner', 'stranger', or 'non-Anglo-Saxon'. These terms were used by the ancient Germanic peoples to describe inhabitants of the former Roman Empire over the Alps, Rhine, and North Sea, who were largely romanised and spoke Latin or Celtic languages. The Old High German walh became walch in Middle High German and the adjectival walhisk became MHG welsch. In present-day German, Welsche refers to Latin (or Romance) peoples, the Italians in particular, but also the French and the Romanic neighbours of the German-speaking lands in general.

The Anglo-Saxon variant wilisc of the Proto-Germanic root was applied to the native British peoples encountered by the Saxon invaders and settlers during the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Over the succeeding centuries the term wilisc morphed through Middle English into welsh, becoming an epithet at once more specifically for the Welsh people, as England became increasingly populated with Anglo-Saxons, and more generally for numerous types of metaphorical and real 'outsider' in medieval community life. This last point opens up a wide vista of possibilities for the genealogy and origin of the surname 'Welsh' in individual cases, thus bringing into question the easy assumption that an ancestral 'Welsh' was necessarily Celtic or a 'Welshman'.

A related colloquialism is the verb to welsh/welch ('to renege') as in 'to Welsh/welch on a deal or bet', which may be derived from an age-old 'English' stereotype of the Welsh/Celtic peoples as unreliable oath-breakers, though that etymology remains conjectural.[1] The potential association with a negative stereotype results in it being considered a somewhat pejorative term.


Region of origin British Isles
Word/Name Anglo-Saxon
Meaning Foreigner, Stranger, Romano-Briton (Celt).
Other names
Variant(s) Walsh, Walshe, Welch; German cognates: Welsch, Walsch, Walch


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