Cambria is a name for Wales, being the Latinised form of the Welsh name for the country, Cymru. The term was not in use during the Roman period (when Wales had not come into existence as a distinct entity). It emerged later, in the medieval period, after the Anglo-Saxon settlement of much of Britain led to a territorial distinction between the new Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (which would become England and Southern Scotland) and the remaining Celtic British kingdoms (which would become Wales and, before their absorption into England, Cornwall to the south and Strathclyde or Hen Ogledd to the north). Latin being the primary language of scholarship in Western Christendom, writers needed a term to refer to the Celtic British territory and coined Cambria based on the Welsh name for it.
The Welsh word Cymru (Wales), along with Cymry (Welsh people), was falsely supposed by 17th-century Celticists to be connected to the Biblical Gomer, or to the Cimbri or the Cimmerians of antiquity. In reality, it is descended from the Brittonic word combrogi, meaning ‘fellow-countrymen’. The name thus conveyed something like ‘[Land of] the Compatriots’. The use of Cymry as a self-designation seems to have arisen in the post-Roman era, to refer collectively to the Brittonic-speaking peoples of Britain, inhabiting what are now Wales, Cornwall, Northern England, and Southern Scotland. It came into use as a self-description probably before the 7th century and is attested (as Kymry) in a praise poem to Cadwallon ap Cadfan (Moliant Cadwallon, by Afan Ferddig) c. 633. In Welsh literature, the word Cymry was used throughout the Middle Ages to describe the Welsh, though the older, more generic term Brythoniaid continued to be used to describe any of the Britonnic peoples (including the Welsh) and was the more common literary term until c. 1100. Thereafter, Cymry prevailed as a reference to the Welsh. Until c. 1560, the word was spelt Kymry or Cymry, regardless of whether it referred to the people or the country; Cymru for the country evolved later. The Latinised form Cambria was coined in the Middle Ages, and was used regularly by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Cambria in legend
According to Geoffrey of Monmouth in the first part of his pseudohistory Historia Regum Britanniae (‘History of the Kings of Britain’), the Trojan Brutus had three sons, among whom he divided his lands after landing in Britain and subduing Gogmagog. His eldest son, Locrinus, received the land between the rivers Humber and Severn, which he called Loegria (a Latinisation of the medieval Welsh name Lloegyr (modern Welsh: Lloegr), later to be most of England). His second son, Albanactus, got the lands beyond the Humber, which took from him the name of Albany (Latin Albania, not to be confused with other places of this name; Yr Alban in Welsh; later Scotland). The youngest son, Camber, was bequeathed everything beyond the Severn, which was called after him Cambria (later Wales and then-Brittonic areas immediately to the north and south of it).
This legend was widely prevalent throughout the 12th–16th centuries, though it bears no resemblance to actual political, demographic, or linguistic history.
The name Cambria lives on in some local names, e.g. Cambrian Line, Cambrian Way. It is also used internationally in geology to denote the geologic period between around 542 million years and 488.3 million years ago; in 1835, the geologist Adam Sedgwick named this geological period the Cambrian, after studying rocks of that age in Wales.
It is also found in the name of a number of colleges stretching across North East Wales, collectively the Coleg Cambria.
It is also referenced in the well-known song “Men of Harlech“, which regales an event of exceptional endurance and valor in 15th-century Wales. This song is popular with supporters of Cardiff City Football Club, and also the Welsh National Team.
Cambria is the name of a font in Microsoft Windows.