Roman Names


Roman Child with ParentSorry for the late release…….:)

In regards to the subject matter, I had to give myself a crash course in Roman naming conventions, though always fascinated with ancient Roman life and culture, and rather familiar with Latin names, I needed to give myself a few weeks to digest exactly how Romans bestowed names upon their children.

Whilst exploring history books from that time period, I have often run into some pretty spiffy names….names so spiffy that I thought they merited usage by a modern-day parent.

Since Roman history actually spans several centuries, various naming conventions went in and out of style throughout its glorious history, from the early Kingdom all the way to Byzantine Empire.

Traditionally, in the very early beginnings of the establishments of Rome, men were often given just a first name, later, particularly among the nobility, it was conventional to be given three names: a praenomen, nomen, cognomen and occasionally if you were prestigious enough, you could gain an agnomen. Thus, a man of noble extraction might be named:

Marcus Tullius Caesar

His mother or father might address him as Marcus, his friends as Caesar, and in extreme formal circumstances, he would be addressed by his full name. If he was not associated with a gens, he would have two names, Marcus Tullius, and be referred to either as Marcus Tullius or just plain Tullius among friends and neighbors.

The praenomen would be the equivalent of a given name, this was the name used in everyday usage, usually only among family or very close friends. Since there was such a scarce selection of praenomina, usually handed down in one family for generations, it became sufficient to add an extra name to distinguish individuals from each other, that is the cognomen.

The nomen, the second name, is a bit tricky to explain. This functioned as a sort of surname, but also identified you with a particular clan, or gens, family that you were related to. Clans were the earliest settlers of Rome and their ancestors passed down their names for generations. They were either descriptive (e.g. Julius “downy-beard) or referenced a geographical location.

The cognomen was a name that was used outside the household, it functioned as a given name, but would be more like a nickname. This would help distinguish several Marcus Aurelii’s from one household from each other. Later in the Republic, the cognomen served its purpose as an actual inherited given name.

In the early days of Roman society, females were usually just given the feminine form of their father’s gens’ names (e.g. Aurelius-Aurelia) and to distinguish several sisters in one household, an extra name which described their birth order or age, was often appended to the gens name. Hence, if the Aureliis had 3 daughters, all three would be named Aurelia, but to quench confusion the three sisters might be referred to as Prima, Secunda and Tertia (First, Second, Third). If it was two daughters, then it was popular to refer to an older Aurelia as Major and a younger Aurelia as Minor.

Towards the middle to the end of the Roman Republic, Roman female names became more varied, and Romans started to veer away from the tradition of just using a feminine form of the father’s gens’ name. Many females were given or adopted a cognomen. Some females were given the feminine form of the father’s name, named after a female relative or sometimes given the diminutive form of an aunt or grandmother’s name, (e.g. Livilla, the sister of Germanicus and Claudius was named for her grandmother Livia).

During this period, Romans also liked to name their girls after famous Roman women, such as Julia (the daughter of Caesar). In fact, Julia became one of the most popular Roman female names during the reign of Julius Caesar, even if the family was not a member of the Julii gens.

If you are a parent looking for a legitimate yet unique name with class, then I would suggest you scour the works of Pliny, read Virgil’s the Aenead or consult the below list. Enjoy!

Roman alternative to popular names

Anna============Annia

Catherine/Katherine/Katie/Caitlin============Cata/Catiana

Christina=========Crispina

Emily===========Aemilia

Gemma=========Gemella

Grace===========Graecina

Isabella==========Sabellia

Kaylee==========Caelia

Keira===========Curia

Layla===========Laelia

Lola============Lollia

Macy===========Maecia

Mackenzie/Michaela==========Maccala

Matilda=========Tillia

Malia/Molly===========Maelia/Malla

Olivia===========Livia/Liviana/Ovidia

Natalie==========Natalina

Nevaeh==========Naevia

Peyton==========Paeta

Poppy===========Poppaea/Popillia

Ruby============Rubria

Sabrina==========Sabina

Sarah============Sarria

Trinity==========Triaria

Anthony=========Antonius

Cash=============Cassius

Corbin===========Corvinus

Paul============Paullus

Quentin==========Quinctillius

Names compatible in the modern English-speaking world:

  • Annaea
  • Arria
  • Bellica
  • Caria
  • Carisia
  • Cassiana
  • Ennia
  • Gaiana
  • Jovia/Jovina
  • Justina
  • Lanata
  • Luria
  • Macrina
  • Maevia
  • Marciana
  • Nelia
  • Nigella
  • Nola
  • Novia
  • Oceana
  • Octobriana
  • Olennia
  • Opilia
  • Orissa
  • Pollia
  • Prima/Primula
  • Prisca
  • Ramira
  • Seia
  • Sirica
  • Taura
  • Traila
  • Traiana
  • Tullia

Male Names

  • Caesar
  • Calvus
  • Cato
  • Cicero
  • Cilo
  • Curio
  • Macer
  • Manlius
  • Marcius/Marcus
  • Maro
  • Marius
  • Nero
  • Pavo
  • Quinctus
  • Rufus
  • Rullus
  • Sergius
  • Silanus
  • Stolo
  • Strabo
  • Taurus
  • Trio
  • Verres

Sources

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_naming_conventions_for_females
  2. http://www.novaroma.org/wiki/Choosing_a_Roman_name
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5 thoughts on “Roman Names

  1. Great topic! I thought I knew a little about Roman names but I see so many on your list that I wasn’t familiar with. Did you find them all at the two sources you listed or are there other places or books that you can recommend?

  2. Another fascinating read! I’m particularly intrigued by Annia, Laelia, Tillia, Malla… Many of these amazing names need to be revived.

  3. I would never call my daughter,Julia. Augustus had a daughter called Julia who was known for her promiscuity in the Roman forum. She routinely cheated on her husbands(Tiberius included).Augustus exiled her to a remote island and banned men from having any contacts with her.

  4. I am not a huge fan of Julia myself, not because of its historical associations but more due to its popularity and the sound has just always sounded flat to me.

    It was also the name of a Christian martyr, who was crucified and is the patron saint of Corsica.

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