Roman Names

Like most everything else in Rome, names were orderly and easily identified individuals and which group they belonged in. Roman society was very much enamored with rank and social stratification, and names were just another part of that ideology.

Each Roman had at least one name, called the praenomen. The praenomen was only used within the family or in very familiar relationships, and vas given during a special naming ceremony shortly after the birth of the baby. It can generally be equated with our first name that we use today. For the Romans, there were not many of these to choose from, and they were not widely used. In official documents the praenomen was often left out or abbreviated.
Praenomen: Abbreviation(s):
Aulus A.
Appius Ap. or App.
Decimus D.
Gaius (Caius) C.
Gnaeus (Cnaeus) Cn.
Kaeso K.
Lucius L.
Manius M'
Marcus M.
Numerius N.
Publius P.
Quintus Q.
Servius Ser.
Sextus Sex.
Spurius S. or Sp.
Tiberius Ti. or Tib.
Titus T.
Vibius V.

Free peoples also had a nomen which identified their gens (clan). This is like the last names that we have today. Romans were often referred to by their nomen, especially if they did not have a cognomen.

The elite also had a cognomen, which identified the particular branch of the gens that they belonged to. It is by this name that Romans of the aristocracy were known.

Like ourselves, the Romans sometimes gave each other nicknames. This was referred to as the cognomen ex virtute, and it came at the end of the Roman name. The cognomen ex virtute was not (usually) passed down through the generations.

praenomen: nomen: cognomen: cognomen ex virtute:
Gaius Julius Caesar  
Publius Cornelius Sulla Felix
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus

Male Names:

  • Plebeans usually had two names: praenomen and nomen.
    Example: Marcus Julius
  • Aristocrats often had three names: praenomen, nomen, and cognomen.
    Example: Gaius Julius Caesar
  • Most men took the names of their fathers.

    Adoptee Names:

  • Adoption was quite common in Rome, especially for families who did not have an heir. The adopted child would take his adopted father's praenomen, nomen, and cognomen, adding his former nomen + anus at the end of his new name.
    Example: When Lucius Aemilius Paullus was adopted by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, he became Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus.

    Female Names:

  • Women, especially aristocratic women, did not get real names of their own, but instead took the feminine form of their father's nomen.
    Example: Julia is the daughter of Julius Caesar.
  • In public aristocratic women were known by the feminine form of their father's nomen and the possessive form of their father's cognomen.
    Example: Julia is Julia Caesaris in public.
  • When a woman was married she could add the genitive form of her husband's cognomen after her family name
    Example: Julia Caesaris marries Crassus and becomes Julia Caesara Crassi.

    Freedmen Names:

  • When men were freed they took their former owner's praenomen and nomen and could also have a cognomen of their own.
    Example: If Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus freed Gaulus, Gaulus would be known as Gnaeus Pompeius Gaulus.

    Slave Names:

  • A slave could be known by where he/she came from.
    Example: Britanicus is from Britania.
  • Slaves could also be named in the possessive form of their owner.
    Example: Caesaris belongs to Caesar
  • Slaves might also be given a name to describe them or the work that they do.
    Example: Felix ("the lucky one")

    If their was more than one child of one gender in a family, the children were identified by putting maior or minor (oldest and youngest) or a number (first, second, third...) in front of their name.

    Example: Julius Caesar's third daughter could be known as either Julia minor Caesaris or Julia tertia Caesaris.

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