Roman name

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In the case of Roman names , a fundamental distinction must be made between men's and women's names and between Roman citizens and freedmen . In addition, the naming differs in the different epochs of Roman antiquity .

The following statements refer primarily to the period between the middle of the 2nd century BC. BC and the early 3rd century AD They also mainly affect the upper class and therefore only partially reflect the Roman naming system.

Slaves and free members of the Empire without Roman citizenship are not treated here .

Man names

Prenomen, noun gentile and cognomen

Names of Roman citizens in antiquity usually consisted of at least two parts: praenomen (first name) and nomen gentile (gentile name).

The first name was traditionally chosen by the father on the 9th day after birth from a small number of more common first names. Only a few given names (e.g. Marcus, Gaius, Lucius) are known and even fewer were in common use, some only in certain noble families. Occasionally the addition maior or minor (the older, the younger) was needed to distinguish father and son, as they often had the same first name, because in many families they limited themselves to a few praenomina . There were probably many more prenomina in the beginning , but since most of them became out of use by the time epigraphic tradition began, they are unknown. In inscriptions, the first names were usually abbreviated.

The gentile name (e.g. Iulius , Antonius ), which in genuinely Roman gentes always ended in -ius , was inherited from the father as a family name. In some widespread families, the nomen gentile consisted of two parts to differentiate between individual branches. For example, the Corneliers split into almost 20 branches.

From around 200 BC BC the cognomen was added as a third element, since the combination of praenomen and nomen gentile no longer guaranteed uniqueness. More and more Romans therefore had three names . The “typical” form of the name was then that of the tria nomina (“three names”) for about 300 years , for example: Marcus ( praenomen ) Tullius ( nomen gentile ) Cicero ( cognomen ).


Honorary names could be added for special merits, for example Africanus . Such an agnoma increasingly took over the function of the cognom in late antiquity, when this too began to become hereditary.

In official documents and inscriptions the first name of the father was often added (e.g. Marci filius , son of Marcus, abbreviated M. f. , See patronymic ) as well as, in order to identify oneself as a Roman citizen, the indication of the tribus , to which one belonged.

Adopted people added the previous family name with the ending -ianus to their new name .

Name lengths ranged from Marcus Antonius to Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus Germanicus Sarmaticus to that consul from 169 AD who had a total of 38 names (one speaks here of polyonymy ).

Names of freedmen

Released (former slaves ) were given the first name and the family name (s ) of the former master. The slave's earlier nickname served as a cognomen . In the place where the father's first name was given for free-born Roman citizens, the first name of the former master was given for freeborn citizens (e.g. Marci libertus ). So was z. B. the secretary of Marcus Tullius Cicero , the slave Tiro , after his release Marcus Tullius Marci libertus Tiro . Because of the large number of imperial freedmen and their descendants, the naming at the time of release meant that the names of the emperors were widespread.

Even peregrini and socii , who were granted full Roman citizenship , adopted the same model as the name of the person who gave it to them, usually the respective emperor.

Development of the naming system

Research has pointed out that the tria nomina today are basically mistakenly considered “typically Roman”: In the centuries around the birth of Christ, the Roman name system was simply in a long transition phase from one two-name system to another. The praenomen was not yet uncommon, but at the same time the cognomen became more and more the actual individual name, until the praenomen almost completely disappeared in the 4th century AD and only remained common in the tradition-conscious upper class (for example with Gaius Sidonius Apollinaris ) . During this phase, in which three names were temporarily common, decisive changes in the course of Roman history took place, and “classical” works that shape our image of Rome were written, so that the phenomenon of tria nomina, which was already largely limited to the elite, was written achieved prominence in the eyes of posterity.

After the granting of Roman citizenship to almost all free residents of the empire in 212 by Emperor Caracalla , the “classic” Roman name form slowly fell out of use, as the name had become superfluous as a distinguishing feature between non-citizens and citizens. In late antiquity (from 300 AD), therefore, the custom largely prevailed to give a person only one nickname. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the additional "names" Flavius and Aureli (an) us actually had more of the function of a title - anyone who worked in imperial services wore it.

Polyonymy remained common only in the highest circles of society, as the examples of Senator Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus or the last Roman consul Anicius Faustus Albinus Basilius show. This practice, which was supposed to demonstrate independence from imperial favor and to indicate connections to other noble families, disappeared together with the Western Roman Senate around the year 600.

Women's names

Even women wore an individual praenomen , which was, however, rarely mentioned in classical times. Most of the time they were only referred to with the surname of their father in the female form (e.g. Iulia , the daughter of Gaius Iulius Caesar ; Tullia , the daughter of Marcus Tullius Cicero ).

Sisters were differentiated or numbered by maior , minor , tertia etc. (the older, the younger, the third) like Marcus Junius Brutus ' sisters Iunia Prima, Iunia Secunda and Iunia Tertia . Since the imperial era, a cognomen was occasionally added which, as with men, increasingly replaced the proper name in front of the gentile name.



The following male first names appear in the list of the Roman consuls (509 BC - 541 AD) in abbreviated form:

  • A. = Aulus
  • Ap. = Appius
  • C. = Gaius
  • Cn. = Gnaeus
  • D. = Decimus
  • K. = Kaeso
  • L. = Lucius
  • M. = Marcus
  • M '. = Manius
  • Mam. = Mamercus
  • N. = Numerius
  • P. = Publius
  • Q. = Quintus
  • Ser. = Servius
  • Sex. = Sextus
  • Sp. = Spurius
  • T. = Titus
  • Ti. = Tiberius

Nomina gentilia


See also


  • Alan Cameron : Polyonymy in the late Roman aristocracy. The case of Petronius Probus. In: Journal of Roman Studies 75, 1985, pp. 164-182.
  • Bruno Doer : The Roman naming. A historical attempt. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1937.
  • Benet Salway: What's in a Name? A survey of Roman onomastic practice from c. 700 BC to AD 700. In: Journal of Roman Studies 84, 1994, pp. 124-145.
  • Helmut Rix : Roman personal names . In: Ernst Eichler et al. (Ed.): Name research. Name Studies. Les Noms Propres. An international handbook on onomastics . Vol. 1 (= handbooks for language and communication research (HSK), 11.1). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1995, ISBN 3-11-011426-7 , pp. 724-732.
  • Helmut Castritius : The Roman Name System - From Trinity to One Name . In: Dieter Geuenich et al. (Ed.), Nouns et gens. On the historical significance of early medieval personal names. (= Supplementary volumes to the Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde , 16). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1997, ISBN 3-11-015809-4 , pp. 30-40.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. cf. B. Salway
  2. Mommsen: Women's names in ancient Rome