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p800 Nomen

The Roman section only (pp800‑803)
of an article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp800‑803 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

NOMEN, name.

[. . .]

2. Roman. In the earliest history of Rome there occur persons who are designated by only one name, such as Romulus, Remus, and others, while there are many also who bear two names. The Romans of a later age were themselves uncertain as to the legitimate number of names borne by the earliest Romans; and while Varro (ap. Val. Max., Epitome de Nominum Ratione), Appian (Rom. Hist. Praef. 13), and others, stated that the earliest Romans used only to have one name, their opponents adduced a great many instances in which persons had two. This question will perhaps be placed in a more proper light, and become more satisfactorily settled, if we consider separately the three distinct elements of which the Roman nation was composed in its origin, and it will then be found that both Varro and his opponents are right or wrong according as their assertions are applied to one or to all of the three tribes.

p801 The Sabines, from the earliest times down to the end of their existence, had two names (Val. Max. de Nominum Ratione), one indicating the individual as such (praenomen), e.g. Albus, Volesus, Pompus (Val. Max. l.c.), Talus (Festus, s.v.), Caius, Titus, Quintus, Appius, etc, and the second the gens to which the individual belonged, which terminated like the Roman nomina gentilicia in ius or eius, e.g. Tatius, Pompilius, Claudius, &c. It is moreover a feature peculiar to the Sabines that a person sometimes, instead of a praenomen and a nomen gentilicium, had two nomina gentilicia, one indicating the gens of his father and the other that of his mother. The latter sometimes preceded and sometimes followed the former. This custom is clear from Livy (XXXIX.13, 17), who mentions a Campanian (Sabine) woman, Paculla Minia, who was married to a man who bore the name of Cerrinius from his gens, and one of the sons of these parents was called Minius Cerrinius. Another instance is the name of the Sabine augur Attius Navius, where, according to Dionysius (III p70), Attius is the ὄνομα συγγενετικόν. Dionysius, however, must be mistaken in making Navius an ὄνομα προσηγορικὸν, if he meant this to be the same as the Roman praenomen, which the name Navius never was. In all probability therefore both Attius and Navius are nomina gentilicia. A third instance seems to be Minatius Magius (Vell. Pat. II.16), the son of Decius Magius. This practice must have been very common among the Sabines, for in most cases in which the two names of a person have come down to us, both have the termination ius, as Marius Egnatius, Herius Asinius (Appian, B. C. 1.40), Statius Gellius (Liv. IX.44), Ofilius Calavius. A more complete list of such Sabine names is given by Göttling (Gesch. d. Röm. Staatsv. p6 note 3), who supposes that a son bore the two nomina gentilicia of his father and mother only as long as he was unmarried, and that at his marriage he only retained the nomen gentilicium of his father, and, instead of that of his mother, took that of his wife. Of this, however, there is not sufficient evidence. Thus much is certain, that the Sabines at all times had two names, one a real praenomen, or a nomen gentilicium serving as a praenomen, and the second a real nomen gentilicium, derived from the gens of the father. The Sabine women bore, as we have seen in the case of Paculla Minia, likewise two names, e.g. Vestia Oppia, Faucula Cluvia (Liv. XXVI.33), but whether in case they both terminate in ia they are nomina gentilicia, and whether the one, as Göttling thinks, is derived from the gens of the woman's father, and the other from that of her husband, cannot be decided. Many Sabines also appear to have had a cognomen, besides their praenomen and nomen gentilicium; but wherever this occurs, the praenomen is usually omitted, e.g. Herennius Bassus (Liv. XXIII.43), Calavius Perolla (Liv. XXXIII.8), Vettius Cato (Appian, B. C. 1.40), Insteius Cato, Popaedius Silo, Papius Mutilus (Vell. Pat. II.16). Such a cognomen must, as among the Romans, have distinguished the several families contained in one gens.

The Latins in the earliest times had generally only one name, as is seen in the instances adduced by Varro (ap. Val. Max. l.c.), Romulus, Remus, Faustulus, to which we may add the names of the kings of the Aborigines (Latins), Latinus, Ascanius, Capetus, Capys, Procas, Numitor, Amulius, and others. When, therefore, Varro and Appian say that the earliest Romans had only one name, they were probably thinking of the Latins. There occur, indeed, even at an early period, Latins with two names, such as Geminus Metius, Metius Suffetius, Vitruvius Vaccus, Turnus Herdonius, &c.; but these names seem to be either two nomina gentilicia, or one a nomen gentilicium and the other a cognomen, and the Latins do not appear to have had genuine praenomina such as occur among the Sabines and afterwards among the Romans.

The Etruscans in the Roman historians generally bear only one name, as Porsenna, Spurinna, which apparently confirms the opinion of Varro; but on many urns in the tombs of Etruria such names terminating in na are frequently preceded by a praenomen. Müller (Etrusk. I p413, &c.), and Göttling (l.c. p31), who follows him, are of opinion that no Etruscan ever bore a nomen gentilicium, and that the names terminating in na are mere cognomina or agnomina. Niebuhr (Hist. of Rome, I p381, note 922, and p500, note 1107), on the other hand, thinks, and with more probability, that the Etruscan na corresponds to the Sabine and Roman ius, and that accordingly such names as Porsenna, Spurinna, Caecina, Perperna, Vibenna, Ergenna, Mastarna, &c. are real nomina gentilicia.

From this comparison of the three original tribes, it is clear that when the Romans became united into one nation, they chiefly followed the custom of the Sabines, and perhaps that of the Latins (Val. Max. l.c.). Originally every Roman citizen belonged to a gens, and derived his name (nomen or nomen gentilicium) from his gens. This nomen gentilicium generally terminated in ius, or with a preceding e, in eius, which in later times was often changed into aeus, as Annius, Anneius, and Annaeus; Appuleius and Appulaeus. Nomina gentilicia terminating in ilius or elius, sometimes change their termination into the diminutive illus and ellus, as Opillus, Hostillus, Quintillus, and Ofellus, instead of Opilius, Hostilius, Quintilius, and Ofelius (Horat. Sat. II.2.3, et passim). Besides this nomen gentilicium every Roman had a name, called praenomen, which preceded the nomen gentilicium, and which was peculiar to him as an individual, e.g. Caius, Lucius, Marcus, Cneius,º Sextus, &c. In early times this name was given to boys when they attained the age of pubertas, that is, at the age of fourteen, or, according to others, at the age of seventeen (Gellius, X.28), when they received the toga virilis (Festus, s.v. Pubes; Scaevola ap. Val. Max. l.c.). At a later time it was customary to give to boys a praenomen on the ninth day after their birth, and to girls on the eighth day. This solemnity was preceded by a lustratio of the child, whence the day was called dies lustricus, dies nominum, or nominalia ( Macrob. Sat. I.16; Tertull. de Idolol. 16).º The praenomen given to a boy was in most cases that of the father, but sometimes that of the grandfather or great-grandfather. Hence we frequently meet with instances like M. Tullius, M. F., that is, Marcus Tullius, Marci filius, or C. Octavius, C. F., C. N., C. P., that is, Caius Octavius, Caii filius, Caii nepos, Caii pronepos. Sometimes, however, the praenomen was given without any reference to father or grandfather, &c. There existed, according to Varro, about thirty praenomina, while nomina gentilicia p802were very numerous. These two names, a praenomen and a nomen gentilicium or simply nomen, were indispensable to a Roman, and they were at the same time sufficient to designate him; hence the numerous instances of Romans being designated only by these two names, even in cases where a third or fourth name was possessed by the person. Plebeians, however, in many cases only possessed two names, as C. Marius, Q. Sertorius, Cn. Pompeius, &c. The praenomen characterised a Roman citizen as an individual, and gave him, as it were, his caput [Caput] at the time when he received it. As women had not the full caput of men, they only bore the feminine form of the nomen gentilicium, as Cornelia, Sempronia, Tullia, Terentia, Porcia, &c. In later times, however, we find that women also sometimes had a praenomen, which they received when they married, and which was the feminine form of the praenomen of their husbands; such as Caia, Lucia, Publia. (Scaevol. ap. Val. Max. l.c.) Caia Caecilia, the wife of L. Tarquinius, if the name be historical, is an exception to this rule (Val. Max. l.c.; see Cic. pro Muren. 12). When Macrobius (l.c.) states that girls received their name (he evidently means the praenomen) on the eighth day after their birth, he alludes, as in the case of boys receiving theirs on the ninth day, to an innovation of later times, and among the female praenomina given at such an early age we may reckon Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Postuma, &c. (Varro, de Ling. Lat. IX.60; Suet. Caes. 50; Capitol. Max. et Balb. 5). Vestal Virgins, at the appointment to their priesthood (captio), when they left the patria potestas, received, like married women, a praenomen, e.g. Caia Tarratia, or Caia Suffetia (Plin. H. N. XXXIV.11).

Every Roman citizen, besides belonging to a gens, was also member of a familia, contained in a gens, and, as a member of such a familia, he had or might have had a third name or cognomen. Such cognomina were derived by the Romans from a variety of mental or bodily peculiarities, or from some remarkable event in the life of the person who was considered as the founder of the familia. Such cognomina are, Asper, Imperiosus, Magnus, Maximus, Publicola, Brutus, Capito, Cato, Naso, Labeo, Caecus, Cicero, Scipio, Sulla, Torquatus, etc.a1 These names were in most cases hereditary, and descended to the latest members of a familia; in some cases they ceased with the death of the person to whom they were given for special reasons. Many Romans had a second cognomen (cognomen secundum or agnomen), which was given to them as an honorary distinction, and in commemoration of some memorable deed or event of their life, e.g. Africanus, Asiaticus, Hispallus, Cretensis, Macedonicus, Numantianus, &c. Such agnomina were sometimes given by the people in the comitia, and sometimes they were assumed by the person himself, as in the case of L. Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus. Sometimes also a person adopted a second cognomen which was derived from the name of his mother, as M. Porcius Cato Salonianus or Saloninus, who was the son of M. Cato Censorius and of Salonia (Gellius, XIII.19; Plut. Cat. Maj. 24).

The regular order in which these names followed one another was this:— 1. praenomen; 2. nomen gentilicium; 3. cognomen primum; 4. cognomen secundum or agnomen. Sometimes the name of the tribe to which a person belonged, was added to his name, in the ablative case, as Q. Verres Romilia (Cic. c. Verr. I.8), C. Claudius Palatina (Cic. c. Verr. II.43), Ser. Sulpicius Lemonia (Cic. Philip. IX.7). No one was allowed to assume a nomen gentilicium or a cognomen which did not belong to him, and he who did so was guilty of falsum (Dig. 48 tit. 11 s13).

It must have been in comparatively few cases that persons had a fourth name or agnomen, but the three others were, at least at a late period, when the plebeian aristocracy had become established, thought indispensable to any one who claimed to belong to an ancient family (Juvenal, V.127). In the intercourse of common life, however, and especially among friends and relatives, it was customary to address one another only by the praenomen or cognomen, as may be seen in the letters of Cicero. It was but very seldom that persons were addressed by their nomen gentilicium. The most common mode of stating the name of a person in cases where legal accuracy was not the object, was that of mentioning the praenomen and cognomen, with the omission of the nomen gentilicium, which was easily understood. Thus Caius Julius Caesar would during the better ages of the republic and in familiar address be called Caius, otherwise Caius Caesar, or even Caius Julius, but never Julius Caesar, which was only done during the latter period of the republic and under the empire, as in Albius Tibullus, Cornelius Nepos, Menenius Agrippa, &c. A very common mode of stating the name of a person during these latter times, was that of merely mentioning the cognomen, provided the person bearing it was sufficiently known or notorious, as we speak of Milton and Johnson, without adding any other distinction, although there are many persons bearing the same name. The most common of these cases among the Romans are Verres, Carbo, Cato, Caepio, Cicero, Caesar, Sulla, &c. In the time of Augustus and Tiberius it became very common to invert the ancient order of nomen and cognomen, and to say, e.g. Drusus Claudius, or Silvanus Plautius, instead of Claudius Drusus and Plautius Silvanus (Vell. Pat. II.97, 112).

Roman women had likewise sometimes a cognomen, although instances of it are very rare. It was sometimes, like that of men, derived from personal peculiarities, such as Rufa and Pusilla (Horat. Sat. II.3.216); sometimes from the nomen gentilicium of their husbands, as Junia Claudilla, Ennia Naevia (Suet. Calig. 12), Livia Ocellina (Suet. Galb. 3), and sometimes from the cognomen of their husbands, as Caecilia Metella.

During the latter part of the republic, and the early period of the empire, when the Roman franchise was given to whole countries and provinces, the persons who thus acquired the civitas frequently adopted the praenomen and nomen of the person through whose interest they had obtained the distinction, or of the emperor himself. After the time of Caracalla (A.D. 212), when all the free inhabitants of the empire had obtained the Roman franchise, and when the gentilician relations which had already gradually fallen into oblivion were totally forgotten, any person might adopt what name he pleased, either ancient or newly invented, and even change his name,a2 if he did not like p803it (Cod. 9 tit. 25); and henceforth the ancient Roman names disappear from the history of the empire with incredible rapidity.

If a person by adoption passed from one gens into another, he assumed the praenomen, nomen, and cognomen of his adoptive father, and added to these the name of his former gens, with the termination anus. Thus C. Octavius, after being adopted by his great-uncle C. Julius Caesar, was called C. Julius Caesar Octavianus, and the son of L. Aemilius Paullus, when adopted by P. Cornelius Scipio, was called P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus [Adoptio (Roman)]. There were, however, two gentes, viz., the gens Antonia and the gens Flaminia, which, in case of any of their gentiles being adopted into gens, took the termination inus instead of anus, as Antoninus and Flamininus, instead of Antonianus and Flaminianus. Sometimes also the cognomen of the former family was retained and added without any alteration to the name of the adoptive father, as in the case of Q. Servilius Caepio Brutus (Eckhel, Doctr. Num. vol. V p59). This was done only in case the cognomen was of great celebrity; but it sometimes underwent a change in the termination. Thus Claudius Marcellus, when adopted by Cornelius Lentulus, was called Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus (Eckhel, Doctr. Num. vol. V p59 and p187). If one man adopted two brothers, the adoptive father might choose any praenomina at his discretion in order to distinguish his adoptive sons from each other. Thus when Augustus adopted the two sons of Agrippa, he gave to the one the praenomen Caius, and to the other the praenomen Lucius (Vell. Pat. II.96). During the early period of the empire it appears to have sometimes occurred that a person, when adopted into another gens, added his own nomen gentilicium without any alteration to that of his adoptive father, as in the cases of C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus, and L. Aelius Aurelius Commodus (Dion Cass. Excerpt. lib. LXXII c15). Besides this, many other irregularities occurred in cases of adoption during the period of the empire, but it is not necessary for our purpose to enumerate them here.

Slaves had only one name, and usually retained that which they had borne before they came into slavery. If a slave was restored to freedom, he received the praenomen and nomen gentilicium of his former master, and to these was added the name which he had had as a slave. He became thus in some measure the gentilis of his former master, in as far as he had the same nomen gentilicium, but he had none of the other claims which a freeborn gentilis had (Cic. Top. 6). Instances of such freedom are, Titus Ampius Menander, a freedman of T. Ampius Balbus (Cic. ad Fam. XIII.70); L. Cornelius Chrysogonus, a freedman of L. Cornelius Sulla (Cic. pro Rosc. Am. 2, &c.), M. Tullius Laurea, and M. Tullius Tiro, freedmen of M. Tullius Cicero. If the state emancipated a servus publicus, and gave him the franchise at the same time, any praenomen and nomen were given to him, or he took these names from the magistrate who performed the act of emancipation in the name of the state, and then received a cognomen derived from the name of the city, as Romanus or Romanensis (Varro, de Ling. Lat. VIII.83; Liv. IV.61).


Thayer's Note:

a1 a2 It's a pity Dr. Schmitz, a far greater expert than I of course, to whom the matter were perhaps easy, omitted to tell us whether and under what conditions a Roman might legally change his name, well before Caracalla's enactment. The evidence may be very sparse though, since so far, I've only once seen the subject addressed by an ancient author: in Plut. Apoph. Rom. 204E, probably written in the late 1c A.D., we find it casually mentioned that Cicero's friends urged him to have his name changed; so it appears that Plutarch, at least — a man well informed on Roman customs over the course of history — thought that changing one's name, or at least an inherited cognomen, was an option routinely available even under the Republic.


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