Latin Texts and Resources


Roman Names and Abbreviations

A Roman citizen often had three parts to his name - first the Praenomen or personal name, then the Nomen or clan (gens) name, then the Cognomen - an honorific or nickname, which could be inherited by his sons.

The Praenomen was given to a child at a naming ceremony, for boys nine days after his birth; for girls eight days after birth. It was used within the family or between close friends.

The Nomen was hereditary, and indicated the voting "gens" (clan or tribe) to which the man belonged. It would be used to refer to someone who did not have a Cognomen.

The Cognomen could be hereditary, or might be given to someone as a nickname which then became hereditary. It indicated which branch of a clan a man belonged to. It was commonly used between friends and in informal conversations.

A Cognomen ex virtute might be awarded by the Senate to mark some special service or honor. This was not hereditary - their sons could not claim it.
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus was awarded his extra cognomen because he led the Romans to victory in Africa

An Agnomen was a nickname that became closely associated with someone.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix ("Lucky").
Ovid's full name was Publius Ovidius Naso - some ancestor must have had a prominent nose.

Caecilius of the Cambridge Course had a full name of Lucius Caecilius Jucundus - his clan was the Caecilii (plural) and "Jucundus" (pleasing) was inherited from his father.
The Roman orator Cicero registered the birth of his son as follows:
M. TULLIUS M. F. M. N. M. PR. COR. CICERO,
M. TULLIUS M[arci] F[ilius] M[arci] N[epos] M[arci] PR[onepos] COR[nelia tribu] CICERO,

"Marcus Tullius Cicero, the son of Marcus, the grandson of Marcus, the great-grandson of Marcus, of the Cornelian clan."

If a family did not have a surviving son, they might adopt the son of a family which already had a male heir. The adopted man took all three names of his adoptive father and usually added the adjectival form of his own clan name, formed by adding the suffix -anus) to his own Nomen.
Gaius Julius Caesar had no legitimate son (not counting the son he had with Cleopatra of Egypt), so he adopted his great-nephew Gaius Octavius Thurinus. Octavius' name was changed to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Those who wanted to show respect, would refer to him as "Caesar" or "Gaius Caesar". Those who were trying to put him down would call him "Octavianus". When he became Emperor in 27 BC he added the honorific Augustus ("revered") to his name.

A woman originally would only have had one name, derived from her father's clan name. For example, Caius Julius Caesar's daughter was called Julia. If there was more than one daughter, they would be distinguished by adding "the elder", "the youner" or "first", "second", "third" etc. - Julia Maior, Julia Minor, or Julia Prima, Julia Secunda, Julia Tertia etc.
By the time of the stories in the Cambridge Course, a woman might have two names - her own family name, and a name derived from that of her father or her mother. A woman would keep her own name after marriage.
In public, a woman would be identified by the possessive form (Genitive) of her father's cognomen, or if married, by the possessive form of her husband's cognomen. Julia, the daughter of Julius Caesar would be Julia Caesaris (Caesar's Julia).
By the time of the late Republic the elite Roman women were starting to use two names - the feminine form of the father's nomen plus the feminine form of his cognomen, sometimes in a diminutive form.
Marcus Livius Drusus had a daughter Livia, who was often called Livia Drusilla. She married Octavian (who took the title of Augustus) and became the Augusta, the first Empress of Rome. Augustus had a daughter named Julia (Augustus had been adopted into the Julian clan).
From the Empire onward, the customs for naming women began to break down, as families chose names to show thrir connections to more important families. Julia the daughter of Augustus married Marcus Vispanius Agrippa. Their two daughters would have been called Vipsania by the old convention, but one was named Julia, the other Agrippina. Agrippina married Nero Claudius Germanicus (grandson of Livia, and adopted son of the Emperor Claudius), and their three daughters were named Agrippina, Drusilla, and Julia Livia, instead of the traditional Claudia.

Freedmen generally had two or three names - a personal name and one or two of the names of the master who freed him.
Usually a freedman would take the praenomen and nomen of his former master, and use his slave name as a cognomen. If he had been freed by a woman, he took her father's praenomen and nomen plus his slave name.
A freedwoman took the feminine form of her master's nomen, plus her slave name.
Marcus Antonius had a daughter Antonia, who freed a slave named Pallas. Pallas became Marcus Antonius Pallas. Antonia also freed a slave-woman named Caenis. Caenis became Antonia Caenis.
If a freedman or woman then contracted a legal marriage, the children born after the marriage were freeborn, and they often continued to bear the nomen of their father's patron.
Publius Larcius freed a male slave named Nicia, who was then called Publius Larcius Nicia, and his freeborn sons were named Publius Larcius Rufus and Publius Larcius Brocchus. Publius Larcius Nicia later freed his own female slave named Horaea, who was then named Larcia Horaea.

Slaves usually had just whatever name their master chose to call them - sometimes indicating their country of origin, or some distinguishing characteristic, or some characteristic that the owner hoped they would display.

Here are some of the common Praenomina and their abbreviations :
See also the Lists of Roman nomina, cognomina, agnomina

Abbrev.PraenomenMeaning
Man'sWoman's
  A, AU, AULAulusAula
  AppAppiusAppia
  C, GCaius, GaiusCaia, Gaiarejoicing, or devoted to Gaia the earth goddess
  Cn, GnCnaius, GnaiusCnaia, Gnaiabirth-mark ?
  DDecimusDecimatenth
  LLuciusLuciaborn during the day
  MMarcusMarcadevoted to Mars
  M'ManiusManiaborn in the morning
  MAMMamercusMamercadevoted to Mars (used only by the Aemilian Gens)
  NNumeriusNumeriacounted, numbered
PostumusPostumaborn after the death of the father
  PPubliusPubliagrowing up, coming of age
  QQuintusQuintafifth
  S or Sp.SpuriusSpuria
  SerServiusServiasurviving the death of his mother
  SexSextusSextasixth
  TTitusTita
  TiTiberiusTiberiadevoted to Tiberis the river-god
  VVibiusVibia
VopsicusVopsica

Other Abbreviations found in Latin inscriptions are :
F - filius, filia - son/daughter
LEG - legion - Legion
N - nepos - grandson
Pr - pronepos - great-grand-son
U - uxor - wife

Copyright © 1999 Shirley J. Rollinson, all Rights Reserved

Dr. Rollinson

Department of Religion
ENMU Station 19
Portales, NM 88130

Last Updated: January 8, 2010

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional   Valid CSS!