In the Roman naming convention used in ancient Rome, male names typically contain three proper nouns which are classified as praenomen (or given name), nomen gentile (or Gens name) and cognomen. Sometimes a second cognomen (called agnomen) is added. A male who was adopted also showed his "filiation" [see Augustus]. For female names, there are a few differences.
When applying for citizenship, only the praenomen, nomen gentile, and cognomen are mandatory, while additional elements such as agnomen and filiation are optional.
This form of "first" name, except for familiar or friendly use, was relatively unimportant, and was not frequently used on its own. There are only a relative few praenomina that were commonly known in both the Republican and Imperial eras of Rome. Only a couple of the names, such as Marcus (as Mark) and Lucius (and its feminine form Lucia) survived into modern times.
Many of the praenomina used by male citizens were abbreviated to one or two characters in writing or inscriptions; the more common abbreviations include: Appius (Ap.), Flavius (Fl.), Gaius (C.), Gnaeus (Cn.), Lucius (L), Manius (M'), Marcus (M), Publius (P), Servius (Ser.), Sextus (Sex.), Spurius (Sp.), Titus (T), Tiberius (Ti.). The names Primus, Secundus, Tertius, Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius, and Decimus mean, respectively, 'first', 'second', 'third', 'fifth', 'sixth', 'seventh', 'eighth', and 'tenth', and were originally given to second, third, etc. sons in birth order. There are, however, abundant examples of this birth-number significance being later lost: Sextus Pompeius, for instance, was not a sixth son. A possible explanation for this is that the numerical praenomen came instead to stand for the number of the month in which the person was born.
See list of Roman praenomina.
The second name or nomen gentile is the name of the Gens (family, clan), in masculine form for men.
Well-known nomina include many of the familiar names of ancient Rome, such Claudius, Cornelius, Domitius, and Valerius. See list of Roman nomina for a comprehensive list.
The third name, or cognomen, started to be a nickname or personal name that distinguished individuals within the same Gens (the cognomen does not appear in official documents until around 100 BC). During the Roman Republic and Empire, the cognomen is inherited from father to son, serving to distinguish a family within a Gens. Often the cognomen was chosen based on some physical or personality trait.
Hundreds of cognomina are known. See list of Roman cognomina for a comprehensive list.
A distinction could even be made in families, a second cognomen (called agnomen) being added. A few of these were inherited like the cognomen, thus establishing a sub-family within a family. Nevertheless, the majority were used as nicknames. Sometimes it served an honorific purpose as the result of an important deed.
- Examples of agnomina are:
- Africanus - Allobrogicus - Asiaticus - Atticus - Augustus (for Emperors) - Balearicus - Briganticus - Britannicus - Caligula - Creticus - Dalmaticus - Gaetulicus - Gallicus - Germanicus - Helveticus - Imperator - Isauricus - Italicus - Macedonicus - Nasica - Nero - Numidicus - Paulus - Sparticus
When a Roman man was adopted into another family (a common event due to the small number of children most families had), his adopted name would become the adopted father's full name, plus his own family name in a declined form. Examples from Roman history:
See adoption in Rome.
As Rome continued to conquer territories beyond the Italian peninsula, many foreign names were introduced. Discharged auxiliary soldiers and others gaining Roman Citizenship could, and many would, continue to use at least a portion of their former names. A number of the names below are of Greek origin, while others came from regions that were brought under Roman influence. Non-citizen auxiliary soldiers who were granted citizenship, often adopted the nomen gentile of their Emperor, adding their native name as a cognomen.
- Examples of foreign names are:
- Amandio - Antigonus - Antiochus - Antius - Apollonius - Apthorus - Artemidorus - Autobulus - Brocchus - Buccio - Caecina - Chilo - Cosmus - Diodotus - Dioges - Diotimus - Epicydes - Fundanus - Glycon - Herclides - Hicesius - Isidorus - Micon - Mithridates - Narcissus - Nicander - Nicia - Nicoteles - Orthrus - Paetas - Parmenion - Philadelphus - Plocamus - Pyramus - Pythion - Quartus - Scipio - Sophrus - Soterides - Tarautas - Thalamus - Theodorus - Theodotus - Trophimus - Vassus - Vespillo
There is inscriptional evidence to show that in the earliest period there were female versions of the praenomina and that women's names presumably consisted of a praenomen and nomen gentile followed by filiation. By the time of the historically attested Republic, women no longer normally had praenomina. Instead, they were officially known only by the female form of their father's nomen gentile. If further description was needed, the name was followed by the genitive of her father's nomen gentile or, after marriage, of her husband. Hence, Cicero speaks of a woman as Annia P. Anni senatoris filia (Annia the daughter of P. Annius the senator). If only two daughters survived they could be distinguished as maior and minor. Mark Antony's daughters were known as Antonia maior (grandmother of the emperor Nero) and Antonia minor (mother of the emperor Claudius). More than two daughters were distinguished by ordinal numbers: Cornelia Quinta, the fifth daughter of a Cornelius. By the late Republic, women also adopted the female form of their father's cognomen (e.g., Caecilia Metella Crassi, daughter of Q. Caecilius Metellus and wife of P. Licinius Crassus). This feminized cognomen was often made a diminutive (e.g., Augustus's wife Livia Drusilla was the daughter of a M. Livius Drusus).
- Examples of feminine names are:
- Aconia Paulina - Aelia Domitia Paulina - Aelia Flacilla - Aelia Paetina - Aemilia Lepida - Agrippina - Alfidia - Alypia - Ancharia - Annia Aurelia Faustina - Annia Faustina - Annia Fundania Faustina - Annia Galeria Faustina - Annia Galeria Aurelia Faustina - Annia Lucilla - Antistia - Antonia - Aquilia Severa - Arrecina Tertulla - Arria - Arria Fadilla - Atia - Aurelia - Baebiana - Bruttia Crispina - Caecilia Attica - Caecilia Metella - Ceacilia Paulina - Caesonia - Claudia - Claudia Antonia - Claudia Pulchra - Clodia - Cornelia - Cornelia Supera - Crispina - Didia Clara - Domitia - Domitia Longina - Domitia Lucilla - Domitia Paulina - Domitilla - Drusilla - Dryantilla - Euphemia - Eutropia - Fabia - Fadia - Faltonia Betitia Proba - Fannia - Fausta - Faustina - Flavia Domitilla - Fulvia - Galeria Valeria - Galla - Galla Placidia - Gnaea Seia Herennia Sallustia Barbia Orbiana - Gratidia - Helena - Helvia - Herennia Etruscilla - Honoria - Hostia - Julia - Julia Aquila Severa - Julia Domna - Julia Livilla - Julia Paula - Junia Calvina - Justina - Leontia - Lepida - Licinia - Livia - Livia Drusilla - Livia Julia - Livia Ocellina - Livia Orestilla - Livilla - Livilla Claudia - Lollia Paulina - Lucilla - Maecia Faustina - Magia - Magna Urbica - Manlia Scantilla - Marcella - Marcia - Marcia Furnilla - Marciana - Mariniara - Matidia - Messalina - Minervina - Mucia - Mummia Achaica - Munatia Plancina - Octavia - Orbiana - Otacilia Severa - Paccia Marciana - Papianilla - Papiria - Paulina - Placidia - Plautia Urgulanilla - Plautilla - Plotina - Pompeia - Pompeia Plotina - Popillia - Poppaea - Poppaea Sabina - Porcia - Prisca - Pulcheria - Sabina - Salonina - Salonina Matidia - Sempronia - Servilia - Severa - Severina - Statilia Messalina - Sulpicia - Terentia - Titiana - Tranquillina - Tullia - Turia - Ulpia - Ulpia Marciana - Urgulania - Urgunalla - Valeria Messalina - Verina - Vibia Matina - Vibia Sabina - Violentilla - Vipsania - Vipsania Agrippina - Vistilia
Additional elements and examples
In the beginning, the praenomen and nomen gentile constituted a Roman's full name and were followed by the so-called filiation (a patronymic or indication of paternity). The filiation (patronimicus) consisted of the Latin word for "son" filius (abbreviated by the letter f.) preceded by the abbreviation of the father's praenomen, which was understood in the genitive. Hence, a Roman might have been known as M. Antonius M. f. (=Marci filius), that is, Marcus Antonius, the son of Marcus. Additionally it could also indicate the grandfather with the word "grandson" nepos (abbreviated by the letter n.). By the Middle Republic, the abbreviation for tribe in which the man was enrolled was added after his filiation. When this became an official part of the name is not known. By 242 BC the number of tribes was fixed at 35:
- Aemilia - Aniensis - Arniensis - Camilia - Claudia - Clustumina - Collina - Cornelia - Esquilina - Fabia - Falerna - Galeria - Horatia - Lemonia - Maecia - Oufentina - Palatina - Papiria - Poblilia - Pollia - Pomptina - Quirina - Romilia - Sabatia - Scaptia - Sergia - Stellatina - Succusana or Suburana - Teretina - Tromentina - Velina - Voltinia - Voturia
A tribe was not an indication of common ancestry; the tribes were distributed geographically and a man belonged to the tribe in which his main residence was located. The tribe was an essential part of citizenship, since voting was often carried out by tribe. With the expansion of the Empire, the number of tribes also expanded.
Sample analysis of a complete name
Analysis of the example of a complete name: Marcus Aurelius Marci f. Quinti n. tribu Galeria Antoninus Pius, domo Caesaraugusta.
- praenomen: Marcus
- nomen gentile: Aurelius (he belongs to Gens Aurelia, the Aurelii in plural)
- patronimicus: son of Marcus
- grandparent: grandson of Quintus
- tribe: Galeria (a tribe from the region of Caesaraugusta in Hispania)
- cognomen: Antoninus (family of the Antonini)
- agnomen: Pius (probably because of his piety... Rarely inherited)
- city: Caesaraugusta (ancient Saragossa or Zaragoza in Hispania)
In everyday use, people were referred to by either a combination of the praenomen and nomen gentile, or even more usually by just their cognomen. So, "Marcus Livius Drusus" would either be just "Drusus" or "Marcus Livius". "Iulia Marciana" would be just "Iulia". This has created a host of problems for modern scholars, since in many cases we no longer have the contemporaneous context that would have made it obvious which person was actually meant, and in some of these cases accurate identification has never been possible.
See also: victory titles