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Understanding Roman Names the Tria Nomina System

ROMAN NAMES (Nomenclature)
Roman Male Names
The Roman male citizen's name followed the Tria Nomina system, and consisted of three parts; the Praenomen, the Nomen, and the Cognoman. To properly understand these three parts, is to grasp the significance of the names you will encounter when studying Roman History.

The Praenomen was relatively unimportant. It can be compared modern western civilizations middle name. Often it was the same as ones father. In the case of multiple male sons, the Praenomen might show the birth order i.e. Primus, Decimus, Tertius, Quadratus, Quintus, Sextus.
A Roman man was not called by his Praenomen except by those closest to him, i.e. his mother would yell “Quintus Frugius, you get in the house this instant!!”
To illustrate this one might think of the famous Roman that we commonly know as Julius Caesar. Except for you really smart history buffs, who remembers his Praenomen? His full name was Gaius Julius Caesar, but who cares. We rightfully know him as Julius Caesar, because his Praenomen was of no vital concern.
Many of the male Praenomen were abbreviated to one or two characters; Gaius (C.), Gnaeus (Cn.), Lucius (L), Marcus (M), Publius (P), Sextus (S), Titus (T), etc.
There are very few praenomen and they are as follows:
Amulius - Aulus - Caius - Cnaeus - Decimus - Gaius (Caius) - Gnaeus (Cnaeus) - Lucius - Manius - Marcus - Numerius - Oppius - Postumus - Primus - Publius - Quadratus - Quintus - Servius - Sextus - Spurius - Tertius - Tiberius - Titus – Vibius

The second of the three names, commonly belonging to a Roman man was the Nomen-Gentilicum, or simply the Nomen. Every person gaining Roman Citizenship adopted a Roman Nomen. The Nomen was very similar the western civilization's last name. It was the family name of the gens, or clan. The Noman almost always ended in “-ius” The family or gens however, as a group would be referred to in the feminine form. i.e. if you Nomen was Helvetius your gens would be collectively referred to as Gens Helvetia.
When walking down the street, a Roman male would most often be addressed by those he met by his Nomen. “Ave, Helvetius”, “Bene vespera, Helvetius”
Although a family had a famous name, like Julia for instance, it did not hold that everyone called Julius was necessarily of that famous family. It was very common for freed slaves to take their master’s name when gaining their citizenship.

The third of the three names carried by the Roman male was the Cognomen. In modern western civilization terms it would be most like a nick name. The cognomen was what set you apart from all those close relatives that shared your Praenomen and Nomen. The Cognomen described something that was unique about you. A personality trait i.e. Brutus (dull or stupid) or physical feature i.e. Ahenobarbus (having a red beard), or some other trait. For example the emperor Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (37-41 AD) commonly know to us by his cognomen Caligula. Caligula earned his Cognomen as a child when he accompanied his parents on military campaigns in the northern lands. His Parents dressed him in a miniature military outfit including caligae (military boots) when reviewing the troops. The soldiers started calling him Caligula, literally translated “Little Boots” The name stuck with him for the rest of his life.
Among those whom a man rubbed shoulder with daily, he was known by his Cognomen. It has been said that a man was called by his Cognomen by two groups of people; his best friends, and his worst enemies.
Many cognomen sounded quite similar with only one or maybe two different letters in the spelling to differentiate them (Aquila - Aquilius - Aquillius, or Crispian - Crispin - Crispus.) This is not unlike our modern names that can also sound the same, but with minor spelling differences to indicate different families.
It wasn’t until the first century B.C. that the Cognomen was used universally.

It is possible to have more than one cognomen, although it was extremely unusual to have more than three. A second cognomen was called an agnomen. A few of these were inherited like the cognomen, thus establishing a sub-family within a family. Nevertheless, the majorities were used as nicknames, to honor a special event or victory in his life. For example, for his victory over Hannibal in Africa Publius Cornelius Scipio, had the agnomen, Africanus added to his name. Examples of agnomina are:
Africanus - Allobrogicus - Asiaticus - Atticus - Balearicus - Briganticu - Britannicus - Brutus - Caligula - Creticus - Dalmaticus - Gaetulicus - Gallicus - Germanicus - Helveticus - Imperator - Isauricus - Italicus - Macedonicus - Nasica - Nero - Numidicus - Paulus - Sparticus
Praenomen - Nomens - Cognomens - Agnomens - Women's Names - Top of Page

Girls were named simply using the feminization of their father’s nomen. Women's nomines (names) ended with "-a" or "-illa" instead of the masculine "-us i.e. Cornelia for Cornelius, Julia for Julius.ÿIn the event that there were more then three girls born to a Roman couple they would be distinguished from each other in one of a couple unimaginative ways. In the case of only two girls, Maior and Minor. If more than two, then, Primia, Secundia, Tertia, Quatta, Quinta, and so forth, denoting the birth-order of the daughters of the family. A Roman women did not change her name when she married.
In the case of a woman somehow distinguishing herself, she like a man might earn a cognomen. Some known Female cognomens are rather interesting in what they said about their bearers. For example, Isidora meant seller of birds, Cassia, cinnamon. Asste, had to do with a copper coin, a penny, or possibly a nanny. Recepta, one who receives, or takes in. Aphe, a Bee. Bassilla, “With Hands outstretched”. Caprasia, Nanny-Goat. Hedea, a young goat, kid. Helvia, one who spends immoderately, a glutton. Hortensia, one who works in a garden, a grower. Mussia, a mutter, one who whispers discontentedly. Thuria, Frankincense. Flavia, Golden haired, a blonde. Clodia, a lame person, limping, crippled. Magilla, little, small one. Artemis, One skilled at a craft, or art. Urbana, of the City.
Examples of female cognomen are:
Abudia - Aemilia - Afrania - Allia - Antiochis - Antonia - Aphe - Appulia - Aristarete - Arria - Artemis - Asste - Athenais - Athenodora - Atia - Aurelia - Bassilla - Caprasia - Cassia - Claudia - Clodia - Cornelia - Didymarion - Didyme - Dionysia - Domna - Domnina - Drusilla -Epicydilla - Epidia - Epria - Eucharis - Extricata - Fannia - Flavia - Gaia - Gnome - Hedea - Helvia - Hilara - Horaea - Hortensia - Irene - Isidora - Italia - Julia - Junia - Lalla - Larcia - Livilla - Magnilla - Marcella - Melino - Melitine - Messalina - Minicia - Minucia - Modia - Murdia - Musa - Mussia - Nitocris - Olympias - Olympionica - Paezusa - Panthia - Parthenia - Perenice - Phamphile - Phyllis - Pobicia - Politta - Posilla - Prima - Primia - Primilla - Pye - Quarta - Quintia - Recepta - Sallustia - Saufeia - Scholastica - Secundia - Semiramis - Senenia - Socratea - Sosis - Statilla - Sulpicia - Telephoris - Terentia - Tertia - Thalea - Theodora - Thuria - Timarete - Tryphosa - Tyrannis - Urbana - Venuleia

This Article is the Property of Paul Royce
PAR Fabrica, Reproduction Roman Footwear
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About Author Paul Royce :

Paul Royce is a Roman Re-enactor of the first century time period. Besides enjoying learning and passing on his knowledge of things Roman to others, he is one of the few people worldwide to supply Roman boots (Caligae) to re-enactors.

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