A query from a visitor and our comforting (I hope) reply ...
Dear Data Wales,
My name is Biven. I read a book on Welsh surnames in about 1978
or 1979. The book fairly old at the time (at least 40 or 50 years
old). It said that my name and all variations of it meant the
same thing. The book said the "Bi-" was from the Gaelic for "drink
or to drink" and the "-ven" or "-vin" was from the Norman invader's word
for wine. The book said Biven was; "a name for innkeepers, drunkards
and people who were too poor to afford ale when it was a penny for four
gallons." The variations included Bivin, Biven, Bivins, Bivens, Blevin,
Blevins, Bevan, Bevans and some other variations. Do you have any
idea what the book's name may have been or if there is another book including
Hello from Data Wales,
You may be relieved to know that the explanation of your name in the
book you mention is totally erroneous. You should not bother to search
out this book since it could not be considered a serious
Morgan & Morgan in "Welsh Surnames" (U. of Wales Press, 1985) offer a nice example of the transition stage in your own spelling. "David ap David ap Iven" was recorded in 1533.
It is interesting to note that a spelling like Bivens or Bevans will tend to indicate a family of Welsh origin whose surname only became finally fixed after settlement in England or, more typically, in America. Bevan (and the variations) were originally "ap Evan" and already had the meaning of "son of Evan". The final "s" in the Bevans / Bivens spellings would therefore have been illogical within Wales.
Blethyn, Blethen, Bleven, Blevin, Blivens.
The writer of the old book referred to in our visitor's mail made the mistake of believing that Bevan and Blevin shared a common ancestor. In fact, members of this "Bl" group descend from the old Welsh name Bleddyn, best rendered in English as Blethyn. Morgan & Morgan point out that "bledd" and "blaidd" are variants of the Welsh for "wolf" but that it is uncertain which version came first. They say that Bleddyn spellings are plentiful in mediaeval texts but also note Blaidd, Bleythe and Blethine examples.
In Welsh "dd" has the sound of English "th", leading to the English spelling Blethyn. However, there are mediaeval examples of spellings where the "dd" sound had became "v". Examples of Blevyn and Bliven appear although these spellings do not seem to have been very common. The reasons for the introduction of the "v" versions are not clear although the "th" and "v" sounds are relatively close and these names might simply be a result of the problems faced by scribes not familiar with the Welsh "dd" sound. Names in this group which terminate in "s" again indicate settlement over the border in England or in distant America.
None of the surnames based on Bleddyn are common, even in Wales. The 2002 Newport and South Wales telephone directory contains just one entry for Blevin. Many of the ancient Welsh names had fallen out of common use by the time that it became important to have a fixed surname. Names long used in England had become popular (no doubt this process had been accelerated by the printing of the Bible) and these names gave rise to the surnames like Jones, Williams and Davies which are widespread over Wales today.
A William Blethin was born at Shirenewton Court in Monmouthshire and educated at Oxford where he became a Doctor of Civil Law in 1562. He became the Bishop of Llandaff in 1575. The pedigree of his family in Bradney's History of Monmouthshire seems to indicate that his generation was the first to use this spelling. Until this time the family had used the old Welsh form, Bleddyn.
| John Weston 2002