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Call for Snowdon to be known only by Welsh name Yr Wyddfa

© Myfyr Tomos

Snowdonia National Park Authorities are considering a proposal to make the Welsh name for Snowdon, Yr Wyddfa, the one official name for the mountain. We asked a Welsh hill names expert and a local mountain photographer what they think of the idea.

Yr Wyddfa. Cold April evening.  © Myfyr Tomos
Yr Wyddfa. Cold April evening.
© Myfyr Tomos, Apr 2021

Most visits to the mountain are made by English-speaking people from outside the area, who have always referred to it as Snowdon. However the name Snowdon is not used by Welsh speakers, who only know the mountain as Yr Wyddfa. In North Wales there are worries that local names are gradually being supplanted by Anglicised alternatives. 

In recognition of this, a motion has been brought by a local county councillor that Snowdonia National Park authorities drop the Anglicised name and refer only to Yr Wyddfa. The proposal extends to officially referring to Snowdonia itself solely by its Welsh name Eryri. A National Park task group, set up to look at guidelines on the use of Welsh place names, will now consider the idea. The councillor who put forward the motion is disappointed that it is not being immediately adopted; but his proposal already has support elsewhere.

"I think this a good idea, but the term 'officially' is the important word, outside that of Yr Wyddfa of course!" says Myrddyn Phillips, an expert in Welsh hills and their names, and co-author of a UKHillwalking article on the subject:

"The name Snowdon, documented as far back as Snawdune in 1095 [Dictionary of the Place-Names of Wales, Hywel Wyn Owen and Richard Morgan, published in 2007 by Gomer Press], has been used for many centuries and in all probability will continue to be so for many years to come. This name exists and will continue to be used by many people."

Nevertheless, although it's often referred to as the highest summit in England and Wales, that characterisation rather downplays its iconic status as a Welsh peak, according to Myrddyn. After all, it has never been in England.

"This hill has national importance and has its own Welsh name and as such, in my opinion, it should be this name that is used in 'official' documentation.

"Simply put; it is a Welsh hill with a Welsh name; Yr Wyddfa, so therefore use it."

For anyone struggling to pronounce Yr Wyddfa, and other well-known mountain names in northern Eryri, here's a handy guide:

The proposal is in line with moves around the world to restore indigenous mountain names. In Alaska, for instance, Denali has replaced Mount McKinley; however the Tibetan and Nepali names for Everest, Chomolungma and Sagarmatha, have yet to be widely adopted elsewhere.

But while the Yr Wyddfa motion has support from some, there are also local residents opposed to an official change.

"My opinion, as someone who is passionate about Cymraeg and the preservation of Welsh place names, is that it is a pointless and divisive exercise" says Snowdonia-based Mountain Leader, writer and mountain photographer Nick Livesey.

"It's no surprise that the idea has been put forward by a councillor in Gwynedd because they have a habit of hijacking the Welsh language issue and weaponising it for political means. Many visitors from England and even the news media have trouble with the name Snowdon in that for some reason they can't seem to say it without adding the erroneous prefix 'Mount'. What chance have they with Yr Wyddfa?

"There's also the theory that the name Snowdon predates Yr Wyddfa. The whole thing is a vanity project and I can't imagine that Yr Wyddfa will ever be adopted by the masses that climb it. The name Snowdon is etched into the British psyche as is Snowdonia, they are iconic terms and to pretend that they have now been officially superseded by indigenous nomenclature does nothing to emancipate the Welsh from many centuries of English subjugation. Every effort should be made to preserve and promote Welsh place names but this kind of revisionism ignores the fact that Llanberis as a tourist resort grew up around Snowdon, not Yr Wyddfa.

"If this councillor is concerned with achieving things that will benefit the National Park, for those that visit and we who live here, then perhaps he can work towards putting a stop to the constant drone of military aircraft that are an aural blight on the area whenever the sun shines, ruining the peace and tranquillity that the majority of visitors seek. He could lobby the relevant authorities to rid the national park of something which is a clear violation of the Sandford Principal and also, symbolically, redolent of the fight against colonialism which is at the heart of the proposal to re-write the history of our wonderful mountain."

On UKHillwalking and UKClimbing, the highest mountain in Wales is listed in bilingual format:  Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa). Referring to Mount Snowdon would be a sacking offence.

But we haven't always taken the language question quite so seriously:


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29 Apr

Although I am English I am entirely in favour of supporting the Welsh language. However this proposal is ridiculous. Like it or not, these places also have English names which have been well-established for centuries. Removing these would alienate and confuse the majority of visitors, not only from England and the rest of the UK but from overseas, and if anything would make them less sympathetic towards Welsh.

How would this comply with the Welsh Language Act 1993? This requires public sector organisations who provided a service to the public to do so in both Welsh and English. This was of course intended to protect Welsh, but sauce for the gwydd is sauce for the ceiliagwydd.

29 Apr

'Where you off to this weekend?'

'YrWyddfaia'

29 Apr

Wonderful! It must be applied worldwide ASAP

Next month I'm off to Munchen, Nippon, and Hankook*

*Munich, Japan, and South Korea

29 Apr

München.

29 Apr

So am I, but I like the idea. Why not? They can always write "Snowdon" in small letters underneath on signs, in case it infringed any laws. It has been on maps and signs as Yr Wyddfa for years, so it's not like the name is a recent invention or something, it's in Wales and that's it's name...

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