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The Longest Name

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The name sign on the railway station at Llanfair PG.

Once upon a time, there was a village in north Wales called Llanfair. Llanfair means, simply, “the church of St Mary” in the Welsh language, and there are many other places in Wales called Llanfair. The particular Llanfair in this story was called Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, to distinguish it from the other places called Llanfair. The name Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll means, in English, “the church of St Mary beside the hollow (or little valley) with the white hazel tree”. I think you will agree that Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll is perhaps too long for normal, everyday use. And English speaking people like me often find Welsh names difficult to pronounce. So people shortened the name to Llanfair PG. And people often still call the village Llanfair PG today.

In the 1850s, a railway line was built along the coast of north Wales. It ran to Holyhead, which was the main port for ships sailing to Ireland. The railway line was busy and important. But only a few trains stopped at the station at Llanfair PG, and only a few visitors came to the village.

How could Llanfair PG attract more visitors? “I know,” said a man who lived near the village. “We need a new name. A special name. A name that people will remember. A name that will make people say ‘That’s interesting. I really want to visit that place’”. So he suggested a new name – the longest place name in Britain. And other people agreed, and so the village was re-named Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. (That was not me speaking, by the way. That was a real Welsh person speaking real Welsh!) What did the new name mean? In English it is: “The church of St Mary beside the hollow with the white hazel tree and the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio with the red cave”. They put up a new name sign in the railway station, and it was the longest railway name sign in Britain. And they waited for the tourists to come.

Changing the name of the village was what today we would call a “publicity stunt” – something which you do to get people to notice you. Many companies, when they want to sell more of their products, find a new name for the product, or they design new packaging, or do something else to attract more customers. Sometimes this works. sometimes it doesn’t.

Did the new name work for Llanfair PG? I do not think so. Llanfair is still a quiet little place with about 3,000 inhabitants. Some trains stop there, but many go through without stopping. People arrive in their cars. They park in the station car park. They take a photograph of the the name sign on the station platform. Then they get back in their cars and drive away.

Why did the new name not attract more visitors? The answer is easy, I think. Imagine going to a railway ticket office and asking for “a ticket to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, please.”


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