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Barbarian Europe

Celtic Name Analysis: Vlad

by Edward Dawson, 2 December 2023

The name Vlad and its variants is fascinating.

It is in this form - Vlad - that it is generally used by Slavs. But it does not look Slavic. It looks Celtic.

It is well known that early migrating Slavs in the fourth to sixth centuries AD picked up a good many cultural and linguistic influences as they ventured westwards away from their core homeland.

It's also a matter of clear understanding that the earlier spread of Hallstatt Celtic culture and language reached the Vistula (at least) where it either influenced the embedded Venedi people there or entirely readjusted what was probably a descended version of proto-Italic.

The Celtic core territories of Switzerland, southern Germany, and France (all of which can be lumped together under the name 'Gaul'), saw the older form of Hallstatt Celtic language being replaced by the La Tène variation.

However, that older form of the Celtic language remained embedded in Celts around the periphery of expansion. This ties in with the name of the Celts which they used for themselves and which was adapted by others in reference to them (see Origins of the Celtic Name for more information, via the 'related links' in the sidebar).

In terms of the name 'Celt' in the older form, it seems to have no 'g' or 'k' at the front, and all forms were followed by an 'L' and a 'd' or 't'.

The words 'Kelt', 'Gallat', and 'Vlad' would appear to be cognates.

This Celtic word means 'fighters' and/or 'fighting'. It is seen in a number of forms in ancient writing, but the basic form in Celtic appears to be 'wel-', from which Germanic-speakers derived 'wahl'.

That word, 'wahl', was extended to mean 'foreigner' (as in naming the Romano-Britons as 'Welsh'), but the original would refer directly to a Celt whether on the continental mainland or the British Isles.

The Celtic name Catuvellader in its various spellings is literally 'battle fighter', for instance.

So why does 'wel-' or 'vel' (the latter potentially abbreviated to 'vl') show up in Slavic and get used in Slavic names?

The most likely explanation would be through contact with the Vistula Venedi, whom they met, dominated, and eventually absorbed between the sixth and tenth centuries AD.

Someone named Vlad may have been a Venedi, or the son of one as part of a hybridised Slavic family unit.

Map of Barbarian Europe 52 BC (Small)
This map shows the general locations of the Celtic (blue) and Germanic tribes (orange) amongst others in the first centuries BC and AD (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Main Sources

Anthony, David W - The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World

Faux, David K - A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry

Faux, David K - The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C

Powell, TGE - The Celts

Rankin, David - Celts and the Classical World



Images and text copyright © P L Kessler & Edward Dawson. An original feature for the History Files.