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An epithet ( lat. Agnomen ) is an additional personal name that is added to a person to describe them more precisely.

In contrast to the nickname , the epithet is basically an official, indispensable part of the name, but this distinction is not made in this sense everywhere in the specialist literature, and the boundaries are often fluid in the development of names. The onomatology speaks for the medieval time of (still vague) epithets, which characterize the respective bearer (appearance, profession, character) and which later often solidify into family names .

The epithet called cognomen by the Romans is the third component of the regular Roman naming (tria nomina) .

Examples of indispensable name components

Examples of medieval surnames that are gender names today

  • Hans Rot: a Hans with red hair or a Hans whose ancestors had red hair (today's gender names Rot, Roth, Rott, Rodt )
  • Hans Schmid: a Hans who was a blacksmith or had a blacksmith for ancestors (today's gender names Schmid, Schmied, Schmidt, Schmitt )
  • Hans Wüeterich: a Hans who tended to be angry or had such an ancestor (today's gender names Wütrich, Wüthrich, Wüterich , Wütherich )

Examples from Romans

  • Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum
  • Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus

Because cognomes and agnomas are similar, it is often difficult to distinguish between them. The agnome has roughly taken over the function of the earlier cognom, since this became hereditary. For this reason, the agnomen was placed after the cognomen to enable a further distinction. In Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, for example, Scipio is the cognomen and Africanus is the agnoma. Some writers also refer to the agnoma as "cognomen" (e.g. Paasch), nicknames such as Africanus as "cognomen ex virtute". The corresponding dictionary entries, for example in Georges , also speak for this view of Paasch . It should also be noted that the naming has changed significantly over time. Already in the 1st century BC The prenomen fell out of use as a name - brothers often used the same prenomen. During the imperial era, the traditional Roman name system was largely dissolved and so-called polyonymy came about. H. individual persons often had several prenomina, several gentile names and several cognomina.

Academic nicknames

In the tradition of learned societies, academic surnames were called agnomas, later cognoms . The academic surnames of the members of the Leopoldina , initially (from 1652) reserved for the founders and members with fulfilled tasks, have been given occasionally since 1668 and regularly since 1681 when they joined the society. This custom was maintained until 1872.

City names

At a time when there were no official country codes or postcodes, epithets were also necessary for city ​​names in order to be able to distinguish the same names from one another. Mühlhausen / Mülhausen or Rotenburg / Rothenburg appear several times in the German-speaking area, the city name Neustadt even appears several dozen times. In order to be able to distinguish the cities from one another, they were given toponyms as surnames, with those of rivers ( Marburg an der Drau ), islands ( Burg on Fehmarn ), country names ( Rotenburg in Hanover ), mountain names ( Neustadt am Rübenberge ) or Landscape names ( Worms in Veltlin ) a distinction should be made possible. In addition, there were and are politically intended city names (e.g. Wilhelm-Pieck-Stadt Guben , state capital Düsseldorf ) or historically determined names (e.g. Oranienstadt Dillenburg ). Since a municipal law in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2011, several cities have given themselves advertising surnames (e.g. city of the FernUniversität Hagen ).

See also


General: in epigraphy books, e.g. B. (very detailed and in German):

  • Knud Paasch: Inscriptiones Latinae: An illustrated introduction to Latin epigraphy . Odense University Press, 1990.

There is also an overview:

  • Ernst Meyer : Introduction to Latin Epigraphy . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1973, 3rd edition 1991.

Popular science:

  • Reinhard Lebe : Was Charles the Bald really bald? Historical epithets and what's behind them. dtv, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-423-11303-0 (first Haude and Spener, Berlin 1969).

Academic nicknames of the Leopoldina:

Web links

Wiktionary: epithet  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Konrad Kunze : dtv-Atlas onenology. First and last names in the German-speaking area . 1998, p. 11 .
  2. ^ Ernst Förstemann: The German place names. Nortdausen 1863, p. 224 ( online ).
  3. See for example Ulrich Hussong: Marburg “an der Lahn”. The nicknames of the city of Marburg.
  4. Home of district heating. In: . March 31, 2012, accessed March 14, 2018 .