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  • Roman naming conventions



    General Information
    By our time period in AeRo, the early Imperial Era, Roman names (for a male citizen) typically consisted of three parts. Known as tria nomina, the three parts were as follows:

    • praenomen - the given name, or first name
    • nomen - the gentile name, or name of the gens/clan the person belonged to
    • cognomen - the name of a family line within a gens

    Sometimes a second or third cognomen, called agnomen, was added. Usually agnomen were used to signify something in particular about the person, whether they were very religious (Pius), or conquerors of Africa (Africanus). The nomen and cognomen were almost always hereditary.

    For an example, let's use the name of famous Gaius Julius Caesar, the first dictator-for-life of Rome. (Praenomen will be in red, nomen will be in blue, and cognomen will be in purple.)

    • Gaius Julius Caesar

    There were only a small number of personal names in use, and the same praenomina tended to be used again and again in families; in particular, the first-born son was usually named after his father. Gaius Julius Caesar, in historical terms, was really Gaius Julius Caesar IV -- with three men coming before him that shared the same name. Second or third sons were often named after fathers, uncles, or even brothers. In rare occasions -- and almost exclusively in two families -- a name that was traditionally the family's cognomen would be used as a praenomen. For example, the emperor Nero. His father by adoption, the historical Claudius, had been born Tiberius Claudius Nero. And thus, when Nero (originally named Lucius) was adopted by Claudius, he took the name Nero Claudius Caesar. Another example is the name Faustus, which originally existed as a cognomen, but came to be used as a praenomen.

    As stated above, there were just over a handful of praenomens used in Rome. There are around 15 'accepted' names, though really half of those were quite rare. Below is the list of common praenomen, along with their abbreviations. Any in italics are considered rare. If your character's name is not here, then just explain that your character has a very untraditional praenomen:
    --Appius (Ap.)
    --Aulus (A.)
    --Caeso/Kaeso (K.)
    --Decimus (D.)
    --Faustus (traditionally used only by Cornelii-Sullae)
    --Gaius/Caius (G./C.)
    --Gnaeus/Cnaeus (Gn./Cn.)
    --Lucius (L.)
    --Mamercus (Mam.) (used only by the Aemilii)
    --Manius (M'.)
    --Marcus (M.)
    --Numerius (N.)
    --Octavius (more commonly a nomen)
    --Postumus (more commonly an agnomen)
    --Publius (P.)
    --Quintus (Q.)
    --Sextus (Sex.)
    --Spurius (S.)
    --Tiberius (Ti.)
    --Titus (T.)
    --Vibius (V.)



    Names for Women
    Women were named in a manner slightly different from men. Very rarely did a woman have a third name, unless it was given as a recognition of her husband's feats. (For example, Augusta was given to the wife of the Emperor on several occasions.)

    Typically, women were named after their father's nomen and cognomen. So, if a character were to have a child (i.e. Renius Suetonius Metellus), his daughter would be Suetonia Metella, for example. In the Imperial Era, if a second daughter was born (or if a character had a niece already named Suetonia Metella, for example) a daughter would keep the feminine version of her father's nomen, and be given a different name in place of the feminine cognomen.

    Let's use the above character and his wife as an example, and pretend Renius has two daughters...

    • Renius Suetonius Metellus (husband) + Antonia Metella (wife)
      • = Suetonia Metella, the eldest daughter
      • = Suetonia Antonilla. She is named after her mother, Antonilla meaning, "Little Antonia". Females often received names with the ending "-illa" in place of the normal "-a" in order to distinguish them as the child of someone in particular.

    When a woman married she had the option of simply retaining her maiden name, or changing her second name to the feminine form of her husband's. For example when Livia Drusilla married Augustus, she was called both Livia Drusilla and Livia Caesaris. It is up to you as the player which form you want for your character.


    Adoption within the aristocratic families was a very, very common thing throughout Roman history. Along with adoption came important political ties, monetary assets, prestige (for the adoptee), and for the Emperor, knowledge that the line would continue on (even if it wasn't a blood-relation.) However, adoption changed names quite a bit.

    The prime example is Octavian.
    Octavian (or Augustus) was born Gaius Octavius Thurinus -- named after his father -- and was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar. Upon Caesar's death, Augustus was adopted, as per Caesar's will, and became the man's heir. Upon his adoption, his name changed.

    • Gaius Octavius Thurinus became, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus... giving us his 'historical name' Octavian.

    Octavian later dropped 'Octavianus' completely when the name Augustus was bestowed upon him by the Senate. Every emperor after him followed his precedent.

    The rule for adoption is really quite simple.

    • 1. The adoptee takes either the praenomen of his adoptive father, or keeps his own.
      2. The adoptee drops his nomen and cognomen, and adopts that of his adoptive father.
      3. The adoptee adds the root of his biological father's nomen (for Octavian, Octavi) and adds "-anus" to the end of it. (There is also evidence of an adopted son taking the root of his father's cognomen and adding "-anus".)



    Slaves and Freedmen
    Slaves were most often given whatever name their master decided to give them. Typically a Roman wouldn't care what a slave's real name was, and would almost always give them a Latin name to begin the process of Romanization. Or, the slaves would be given names of famous historians and people from history/mythology.

    If a slave were freed by his master and became a freedman, his name would change. Upon being freed, a slave took the praenomen and nomen of his master, and added what had been his slave name as a cognomen. If he was freed by a woman, he took the names of the woman's father.

    For example, let's use my character's illegitimate child, Khai.
    If Khai were freed his name would become: Renius Suetonius Caius. And though he would not be a member of any aristocracy, his name signified the person who became his patron. However, typically a freedman's son would continue to carry the same name.

    Freedwomen took the nomen of their mistress and added their slave name. So, Emuishere (Renius' slave) would become Antonia Emuishere -- or probably something more Latinized than Emuishere.

    However, there was an L (for Liberti) and the initial of the Dominus' praenomen. So, Emuishere would become Antonia R.L Emuishere and Khai would become, Renius Suetonius R.L Caius. Essentially, it means the freedperson of and distinguishes them from the other family.


    Resources for Names
    This site is spectacular for finding names. It explains some of the mechanics behind naming as well, though it's a bit long-winded.

    And there is also Nova Roma's Choosing a Roman name.

    These are lists on Wikipedia, but still worthwhile:
    Roman Praenomia
    Roman Gens/Nomina
    Roman Cognomia


    Written by Chris.


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