1. The Family
  2. Roman Names
  3. Marriage and Women
  4. Children and Education
  5. Slaves and Dependents
  6. The House and Furniture
  7. Dress and Ornaments
  8. Food and Meals
  9. Amusements
  10. Travel and Correspondence
  11. Sources of Income
  12. Farming and Country Life
  13. Town Life
  14. Funeral Customs
  15. The Roman Religion
  16. The Water Supply of Rome

The Private Life of the Romans
by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston
Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932)


Table of contents


Chapter 2: ROMAN NAMES

REFERENCES: Marquardt, 7-27; Pauly-Wissowa, under cognōmen; Smith, Daremberg-Saglio, Harper’s, Walters, under nōmen; Sandys, Companion, 174-175. See, also, Egbert, 82-113; Cagnat, Cours d’Epigraphie Latine, 37-87; Sandys, Latin Epigraphy, 207-221; Showerman, 91-92.

The Threefold Name (§38-40)

The Praenōmen (§41-45)

The Nōmen (§46-47)

The Cognōmen (§48-50)

Additional Names (§51-55)

Confusion of Names (§56-57)

Names of Women (§58)

Names of Slaves (§59)

Names of Freedmen (§60)

Naturalized Citizens (§61)

   38. The Threefold Name. Nothing is more familiar to the student of Latin than the fact that the Romans whose works he reads first have each a threefold name, Caius Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Publius Vergilius Maro. This was the system that prevailed in the best days of the Republic, but it was itself a development, starting in earlier times with a more simple form, and ending, under the Empire, in utter confusion. The earliest legends of Rome show us single names, Romulus, Remus, Faustulus; but side by side with these we find also double names, Numa Pompilius, Ancus Martius, Tullus Hostilius. It is possible that single names were the original fashion, but in early inscriptions we find two names, the second of which, in the genitive case, represented the father or the Head of the House: Mārcus Mārcī, Caecilia Metellī. A little later such a genitive was followed by the letter f (for fīlius or fīlia) or uxor, to denote the relationship. Later still, but very anciently nevertheless, we find the free-born man in possession of the three names with which we are familiar, the nōmen to mark his clan (gēns), the cognōmen to mark his family, and the praenōmen to mark him as an individual. The regular order of the three names is praenōmen, nōmen, cognōmen, although in poetry the order is often changed to adapt the name as a whole to the meter.

   39. Great formality required even more than the three names.
FIG. 16: M. TULLIUS M. f. M. n. M. pr. Cor. CICERO. A bust in the Vatican Museum, Rome.In official documents and in the state records it was usual to insert between a man’s nōmen and cognōmen the praenōmina of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and sometimes even the name of the tribe in which he was registered as a citizen. So Cicero might have written his name as M. Tullius M. f. M. n. M. pr. Cor. Cicero, that is, Marcus Tullius Cicero, son (fīlius) of Marcus, grandson (nepōs) of Marcus, great-grandson (pronepōs) of Marcus, of the tribe Cornelia.

   40. On the other hand, even the threefold name was too long for ordinary use. Children, slaves, and intimate friends addressed the father, master, friend, and citizen by his praenōmen only. Ordinary acquaintances used the cognōmen, with the praenōmen prefixed for emphatic address. In earnest appeals we find the nōmen also used, with sometimes the praenōmen or the possessive prefixed. When two only of the three names are thus used in familiar intercourse, the order varies. If the praenōmen is one of the two, it always stands first, except in the poets, for metrical reasons, and in a few places in prose where the text is uncertain. If the praenōmen is omitted, the arrangement varies; the older writers regularly put the cognōmen first. Cicero usually follows this practice: cf. Ahāla Servīlius, (Milo 3,8); contrast C. Servīlius Ahāla, (Cat. I, 1,3). Caesar puts the nōmen first; Horace, Livy, and Tacitus have both arrangements, while Pliny the Younger adheres to Caesar’s usage.

   41. The Praenōmen. The number of names in actual use as praenōmina seems to us preposterously small as compared with our Christian names, to which they in some measure correspond. It was never much in excess of thirty, and in Sulla’s time had dwindled to eighteen. The following are all that are often found in the authors read in school and in college: Aulus (A), Decimus (D), Gāïus (C),
1 Gnaeus (CN),1 Kaesō (K), Lūcius (L), Mānius (M’), Mārcus (M), Pūblius (P), Quīntus (Q), Servius (SER), Sextus (SEX), Spurius (S), Tiberius (TI), and Titus (T). The abbreviations of these names vary: for Aulus we find regularly A, but also AV and AVL; for Sextus we find SEXT and S as well as SEX. Similar variations are found in the case of other praenōmina

   42. But small as this list seems to us, the natural conservatism of the Romans found in it a chance to display itself, and the great families repeated the praenōmina of their children from generation to generation in such a way as to make the identification of individuals often very difficult in modern times. Thus the Aemilii contented themselves with seven of these praenōmina, Gāïus, Gnaeus, Lūcius, Mānius, Mārcus, Quīntus, and Tiberius, but used in addition one that is not found in any other gēns, Māmercus (MAM). The Claudii used only six, Gāïus, Decimus, Lūcius, Pūblius, Servius, and Tiberius. A still smaller number sufficed for the Julian gēns, Gāïus, Lūcius, and Sextus, with the praenōmen, Vopiscus, which went out of use in very early times. And even these selections were subject to further limitations. Thus, of the gēns Claudia only one branch (stirps), known as the Claudiī Nerōnēs, used the praenōmina Decimus and Tiberius,
FIG. 17: C. JULIUS CAESAR. A statue in the Capitoline Museum, Romeand out of the seven praenōmina used in the gēns Cornēlia the branch of Scipios (Cornēliī Scīpiōnēs) used only Gnaeus, Lūcius, and Pūblius. Even after a praenōmen had found a place in a given family, it might be deliberately discarded: the senate decreed that no Antonius should have the praenōmen Mārcus after the downfall of the famous triumvir, Marcus Antonius.

   43. From the list of prae­nōmina usual in his family the father gave one to his son on the ninth day after his birth, the diēs lūstricus. It was a cus­tom then, one that seems natural enough in our own times, for the father to give his own praenōmen to his first-born son; Cicero’s name (
§ 39) shows the praenōmen Mārcus four times repeated. When these praenōmina were first given, they must have been chosen with due regard to their etymological meaning (§ 44) and have had some relation to the circumstances attending the birth of the child.

   44. So, Lūcius meant originally “born by day,” Mānius “born in the morning”; Quīntus, Sextus, Decimus, Postumus, etc., indicated the succession in the family; Servius was connected, perhaps, with servāre, Gāïus with gaudēre. Others are associated with the name of some divinity, as Mārcus and Māmercus with Mars, and Tiberius with the river god Tiberis. But these meanings in the course of time were forgotten as completely as we have forgotten the meanings of our Christian names, and even the numerals were em­ployed with no reference to their proper force: Cicero’s only brother was called Quīntus.

   45. The abbreviation of the praenōmen was not a matter of mere caprice, as is the writing of initials with us, but was an established custom, indicating, perhaps, Roman citizenship. The praenōmen was written out in full only when it was used by itself or when it belonged to a person in one of the lower classes of society. When Roman praenōmina are carried over into English, they should always be written out in full and pronounced accordingly. In the same way, when we read a Latin author and find a praenōmen abbre­viated, the full name should always be pronounced if we read aloud or translate.

   46. The Nōmen. The nōmen, the all-important name, is called for greater precision the nōmen gentile and the nōmen gentilicium. The child inherited it, as one inherits one’s surname now, and there was, therefore, no choice or selection about it. The nōmen ended originally in -ius, and this ending was sacredly preserved by the patrician families; the endings -eius, -aius, -aeus, and -eüs are merely variations from it. Other endings point to a non-Latin origin of the gēns. Names in -ācus (Avidiācus) are Gallic; those in -na (Caecīna) are Etruscan; those in -ēnus or -iēnus (Salvidiēnus) are Umbrian or Picene.

   47. The nōmen belonged by custom to all connected with the gēns, to the plebeian as well as the patrician branches, to men, women, clients, and freedmen, without distinction. It was perhaps the natural desire to separate themselves from the more humble bearers of their nōmen that led patrician families to use a limited number of praenōmina, avoiding those used by their clansmen of inferior social standing. At any rate, it is noticeable that the plebeian families, as soon as political nobility and the busts in their halls (§§
107, 200) gave them a standing above their fellows, showed the same exclusiveness in the selection of names for their children that the patricians had displayed before them (§ 42).

   48. The Cognōmen. Besides the individual name and the name that marked his gēns, the Roman had often a third name, called the cognōmen, that served to indicate the family or branch of the gēns to which he belonged (
§§ 18-19). Almost all the great gentēs were thus divided, some of them into numerous branches. The Cornelian gēns, for example, included the plebeian Dolabellae, Lentuli, Cethegi, and Cinnae, in addition to the patrician Scipiones, Maluginenses, Rufini, etc.

   49. From the fact that in the official name (
§§ 38-39) the cognōmen followed the name of the tribe, it is generally believed that the oldest of the cognōmina did not go back beyond the time of the division of the people into tribes. It is also generally believed that the cognōmen was originally a nickname, bestowed on account of some personal peculiarity or characteristic, sometimes as a compliment, sometimes in derision. So we find many pointing at physical traits, such as Albus, Barbātus, Cincinnātus, Claudus, Longus (all originally adjectives), and Nāsō and Capitō (nouns: “the man with a nose,” “the man with a head“); others, such as Benignus, Blandus, Catō, Serēnus, Sevērus, refer to the temperament; still others, such as Gallus, Ligus, Sabīnus, Siculus, Tuscus, denote origin. These cognōmina, it must be remembered, descended from father to son; they would naturally lose their appropriateness as they passed along, until in the course of time their meanings were entirely lost sight of, as were those of the praenōmina (§ 44).

   50. Under the Republic the patricians had almost without exception this third or family name; we are told of but one man, Caius Marcius, who lacked it. With the plebeians the cognōmen was not so common; perhaps its possession was the exception. The great families of the Marii, Mummii, and Sertorii had none, although the plebeian branches of the Cornelian gēns (
§ 48), the Tullian gēns, and others, did. The cognōmen came, therefore, to be prized as an indication of ancient lineage, and individuals whose nobility was new were anxious to acquire one to transmit to their children. Hence many assumed cognōmina of their own selection. Some of these were conceded to them by public opinion as their due, as in the case of Cnaeus Pompeius, who took Magnus as his cognōmen. Other cognōmina were given in derision, as we deride the made-to-order coat of arms of some upstart in our own times. It is probable, however, that only patricians ventured to assume cognōmina under the Republic, though under the Empire their possession was hardly more than the badge of freedom.

   51. Additional Names. Besides the three names already described, we find not infrequently, even in Republican times, a fourth or a fifth. These also were called cognōmina by a loose extension of the word, until in the fourth century of our era the name agnōmina was given them by the grammarians. They may be conveniently considered under four heads.

   52. In the first place, the process that divided the gēns into branches might be continued even further. That is, as the gēns became extensive enough to throw off a stirps (
§ 19), so the stirps in process of time might throw off a branch of itself, for which there is no better name than the vague familia. This actually happened very frequently: the gēns Cornēlia, for example, threw off the stirps of the Scīpiōnēs, and this in turn the family or “house” of the Nāsīcae. So we find the fourfold name Pūblius Cornēlius Scīpiō Nāsīca, in which the last name was probably given very much in the same way as the third had been given before the division took place.

   53. In the second place, when a man passed from one family to another by adoption (
§ 37), he regularly took the three names of his adoptive father and added his own nōmen gentīle modified by the suffix -ānus. Thus, Lucius Aemilius Paulus, the son of Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus (see § 54 for Macedonicus), was adopted by Publius Cornelius Scipio, and took as his new name Pūblius Cornēlius Scīpiō Aemiliānus. FIG. 19: C. JULIUS CAESAR OCTAVIANUS. A statue found in Prima Porta, now in the Vatican MuseumIn the same way, when Caius Octavius Caepias (Fig. 18) was adopted by Caius Julius Caesar, he became Gāïus Iūlius Caesar Octāviānus (Fig. 19), and hence is variously styled “Octavius” and “Octavianus” in the histories.

   54. In the third place, an additional name, sometimes called cognōmen ex virtūte, was often given by acclamation to a great statesman or victorious general, and was put after his cognōmen. A well-known example is in the name of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus; the title Āfricānus was given him after his defeat of Hannibal. In the same way, his grandson by adoption, the Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus mentioned above (
§ 53), received the same honorable title after he had destroyed Carthage, and was called Pūblius Cornēlius Scīpiō Aemiliānus Āfricānus. Other examples are Macedonicus, given to Lucius Aemilius Paulus for his defeat of Perseus, and the title Augustus, given by the senate to Octavianus. It is not certainly known whether or not these names passed by inheritance to the descendants of those who originally earned them, but it is probable that the eldest son only was strictly entitled to take his father’s title of honor.

   55. In the fourth place, the fact that a man had inherited a nickname from his ancestors in the form of a cognōmen (
§ 49) did not prevent his receiving another from some personal characteristic, especially as the inherited name had often no application, as we have seen (§ 49), to its later possessor. To some ancient Publius Cornelius was given the nickname Scīpiō (§ 49); in the course of time this title was taken by all his descendants, without thought of its appropriateness, and it became a cognōmen. Then, to one of these descendants another nickname, Nāsīca, was given for personal reasons, which in course of time lost its individuality and became the name of a whole family (§ 50); then, in precisely the same way a member of this family became prominent enough to need a separate name and was called Corculum, his full name being Pūblius Cornēlius Scīpiō Nāsīca Corculum. It is evident that there is no reason why the expansion should not have continued indefinitely. It is also evident that we cannot always distinguish between a mere nickname, one applied merely to an individual and not passing to his descendants, and the additional cognōmen that marked the family off from the rest of the stirps (§ 19) to which it belonged.

   56. Confusion of Names. A system so elaborate as that described was almost sure to be misunderstood or misap­plied, and in the later days of the Republic and under the Em­pire we find all law and order in names disregarded. Con­fusion was caused by the misuse of the praenōmen. Some­times two are found in one name, e.g., Pūblius Aëlius Aliēnus Archelāus Mārcus. The familiar Gāïus must have been a nōmen in very ancient times. Like irregularities occur in the use of the nōmen. Two in a name were not uncommon, one being derived, perhaps, from the family of the mother; occasionally three or four are used, and fourteen are found in the name of one of the consuls of the year 169 A.D. By another change, a word might go out of use as a praenōmen and appear as a nōmen: Cicero’s enemy Lūcius Sergius Catilōna had for his nōmen gentīle Sergius, which had once been a praenōmen (
§ 41). The cognōmen was similarly abused. It ceased to denote the whole family and came to distinguish members of the same family, as the prae­nōmina originally had done: thus the three sons of Marcus Annaeus Seneca, for example, were called, respectively, Mārcus Annaeus Novātus, Lūcius Annaeus Seneca, and Lūcius Annaeus Mela. Again, a name might be arranged differently at different times: in the consular lists we find the same man called Lūcius Lucrētius Tricipitīnus Flāvus and Lūcius Lucrētius Flāvus Tricipitīnus.

   57. There is even greater variation in the names of persons who had passed from one family into another by adoption. Some took the additional name (
§§ 51-55) from the cognōmen instead of from the nōmen. Some used more than one nōmen. Finally, it may be noticed that late in the Empire we find a man struggling under the load of forty names.

   58. Names of Women. No very satisfactory account of the names of women can be given, because it is impossible to discover any system in the choice and arrangement of those that have come down to us. It may be said that the three­fold name for women was unknown in the best days of the Republic; praenōmina for women were rare and when used were not abbreviated. More common were the adjectives Maxima and Minor, and the numerals Secunda and Tertia, but these, unlike the corresponding names of men (
§ 44), seem always to have denoted the place of the bearer among a group of sisters. It was more usual for the unmarried woman to be called by her father’s nōmen in its feminine form, with the addition of her father’s cognōmen in the genitive case, followed later by the letter f (fīlia) to mark the relationship. An example is Caecilia Metellī. Caesar’s daughter was called Iūlia, Cicero’s Tullia. Sometimes a woman used her mother’s nōmen after her father’s. The married woman, if she passed into her husband’s “hand” (manus, § 23) by the ancient patrician ceremony, originally took his nōmen, just as an adopted son took the name of the family into which he passed, but it cannot be shown that the rule was universally or even usually observed. Under the later forms of marriage the wife retained her maiden name. In the time of the Empire we find the threefold name for women in general use, with the same riotous confusion in selection and arrangement as prevailed in the case of the names of men at the same time.

   59. Names of Slaves. Slaves had no more right to names of their own than they had to other property, but took such as their masters were pleased to give them, and even these did not descend to their children. In the simpler life of early times the slave was called puer, just as the word “boy” was once used in this country for slaves of any age. Until late in the Republic the slave was known only by this name, corrupted to por and affixed to the genitive of his master’s praenōmen: Mārcipor (Mārcī puer), “Marcus’s slave,” Ōli­por (Aulī puer), “Aulus’s slave.” When slaves became numerous, this simple form no longer sufficed to distinguish them, and they received individual names. These were usually foreign names, and often denoted the nationality of the slave; sometimes, in mockery perhaps, they were the high-sounding appellations of eastern potentates, such as Afer, Eleutheros, Pharnaces. By this time, too, the word servus had supplanted puer. We find, therefore, that toward the end of the Republic the full name of a slave consisted of his individual name followed by the nōmen and praenōmen (the order is important) of his master and by the word servus: Pharnacēs Egnātiī Pūbliī servus. When a slave passed from one master to another, he took the nōmen of the new master and added to it the cognōmen of the old modified by the suffix -ānus: when Anna, the slave of Mae­cenas, became the property of Livia, she was called Anna Līviae serva Maecēnātiāna.

   60. Names of Freedmen. The freedman regularly kept the individual name which he had had as a slave, and re­ceived the nōmen of his master with any praenōmen the latter assigned him, the individual name coming last as a sort of cognōmen. It happened naturally that the master’s prae­nōmen was often given, especially to a favorite slave. The freedman of a woman took the name of her father, e.g., Mārcus Līvius Augustae l Ismarus; the letter l stood for lībertus, and was inserted in all formal documents. Of course the master might disregard the regular form and give the freedman any name he pleased. Thus, when Cicero manu­mitted his slaves Tiro and Dionysius, he called the former, in strict accord with custom, Mārcus Tullius Tīrō, but to the latter he gave his own praenōmen and the nōmen of his friend Titus Pomponius Atticus, the new name being Mārcus Pompōnius Dionysius. The individual names (Pharnaces, Dionysius, etc.) were dropped by the descendants of freed­men, who were, with good reason, anxious to hide all traces of their mean descent.

   61. Naturalized Citizens. When a foreigner received the right of citizenship, he took a new name, which was ar­ranged on much the same principles as have been ex­plained in the cases of freedmen. His original name was retained as a sort of cognōmen, and before it were written the praenōmen that suited his fancy and the nōmen of the person, always a Roman citizen, to whom he owed his citi­zenship. The most familiar example is that of the Greek poet Archias, whom Cicero, in the well-known oration, de­fended; his name was Aulus Licinius Archiās, He had long been attached to the family of the Luculli, and, when he was made a citizen, he took as his nōmen that of his dis­tinguished patron Lucius Licinius Lucullus; we do not know why he selected the praenōmen Aulus. Another example is that of the Gaul mentioned by Caesar (
B.G., I, 47), Gāïus Valerius Cabūrus. He took his name from Caius Valerius Flaccus, the governor of Gaul at the time that he received his citizenship. To this custom of taking the names of governors and generals is due the frequent occurrence of the name “Julius” in Gaul, “Pompeius” in Spain, and “Cornelius” in Sicily.

1 C originally had the value of G and retains it in the abbreviations C and Cn. for Gaïus and Gnaeus. See Cagnat, 39, and Egbert, 25, 85. When they are Anglicized, these praenōmina are often written with the C.


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