Praenōmina

While we’re on the topic of names, let’s go over the 18 typical Roman praenōmina.

Origin of the Praenōmina

A&G list the praenōmina, but they don’t discuss their origin, their use, or why there are only 18.

  • From what I can tell, the names became concentrated because fathers had a habit of naming their sons after themselves
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero was Marcus, son of Marcus, son of Marcus, son of Marcus, (son of Marcus?)
  • Certain names became associated with certain patrician gentēs, encouraging further concentration
  • I assembled my information from this page

The List

Honestly, if you just sit down and decline all of these by hand, you’ll likely be set for life. You may not be able to list them off from memory, but when you encounter Mām, you’ll no longer forget it’s Māmercus.

  • A. Aulus
  • App. / Ap. Appius
  • C. / G. Gāius
  • Cn. / Gn. Gnaeus
  • D. Decimus
  • K. Kaesō
  • L. Lūcius
  • M. Mārcus
  • M’. Mānius
  • Mām. Māmercus
  • N. / Num. Numerius
  • P. Pūblius
  • Q. Quintus
  • Ser. Servius
  • Sex. / S. Sextus
  • Sp. Spurius
  • T. Titus
  • Ti. / Tib. Tiberius

Go on, now. Decline them! They don’t even have plurals. It won’t take you more than ten minutes.

The Essential AG: 108c

Famous Phrase: nōmen nesciō (n.n.) [I don’t know the name]

[An N.N. number is assigned to Jane Does in certain European countries, in order to protect the identity of witnesses or victims]

Roman Names in Inscriptions and Literature

For an introduction to names, see this post.

Names in Roman Inscriptions

The given name of a Roman citizen on a stone inscription appears as complex as possible. In fact, it looks so complicated that I’m not sure I understand all of it–readers, feel free to assist me.

  • In addition to a given figure’s name, we find (i) the praenōmina of father, grandfather and great-grandfather as well as (ii) the tribe to which the figure belong
  • the Romans were divided into tribes in order to centralize voting, sacrifices, etc. — members of a tribe elected tribunes as tribal representatives

Mārcus Tullius Cicerō Mārcus Tullius Mārcī fīlius Mārcī nepōs Mārcī pronepōs Cornēliā tribū Cicerō.

  • Mārcus, the praenōmen
  • Tullius, of the gēns Tullia
  • Mārcī fīlius, son of Mārcus
  • Mārcī nepōs, grandson of Mārcus 
  • Mārcī pronepōs, great-grandsom of Mārcus
  • Cornēliā tribū, in the Cornelian tribe
  • Cicerō, the cognōmen

This would have been abbreviated M TVLLIVS M F M N M PR COR CICERO

Names in Roman Literature

Here, the system is simplified:

  • Mārcus Tullius Cicerō Mārcus Tullius Mārcī fīlius Cicerō
  • the father’s name is included, but nothing else
  • poets, of course, will use synecdoche or metonymy to rename their subjects as needed

Women, for contextual comparison, were denoted with the possessive genitive of their father’s or husband’s name.

  • Caecilia Metellī = Caecilia, daughter of Metellus
  • Postumia Servī Supliciī = Postumia, wife of Servus Suplicius

The Essential AG: 108 n1

Famous Phrase: eō nōmine [by that name]

(a legal phrase denoted sovereign immunity–a U.S state may not be sued eō nōmine: that is, under its own laws. It must be tried at the federal level)

Āgnōmina

Somehow, this post got very political. I trust you’ll still enjoy it.

Agnōmina

Fourth or fifth names may be added to denote particular family distinctions.

  • Pūblius Cornēlius Scīpiō Āfricānus Aemiliānus=
  • Pūblius (my widdle Pubb-pie, as his mother might say)
  • Cornēlius (an important gēns with uncertain origins)
  • Scīpiō (the Scīpiō family, descended from some particular Cornelian nicknamed for his ‘ceremonial rod’)
  • Āfricānus (for Pūblius’ exploits in Africa)
  • Aemiliānus (adopted from the Aemilian gēns)

The Romans simply saw these as further cōgnōmina, but later writers described these as agnōmina 

Gēns vs. Familia

If you’re worried about the difference between the gēns and the ‘family,’ just imagine that each gēns stretched back to some great ancient ancestor, whereas each family stretch back to some more recent republican ancestor

  • We’re distantly related to Thomas Jefferson (gēns Jeffersōnia)
  • I heard this form uncle George (George Jeffersōnia Bush Īrācānus)
  • George W. would have been George J. B. Minor in his early days
  • You may think he doesn’t deserve the āgnōmen ‘Īrācānus,’ and neither do I–so let’s realize just how political these little nicknames really are [I’m sure a number of Romans refused Scīpiō his ‘Āfricānus’]
  • George’s great-grandfather, Sam Prescott Bush, may have added a fifth āgnōmen–the gēns name of the Rockefellers–because he rose to prominence with the aid of John’s brother, Frank Rockefeller
  • This entire example is complicated by the fact that the Bushes would be publicans not patricians

The Essential AG: 108a

Famous Phrase Revisited: ‘cēterum autem censeō Fedem dēlendem esse.’ [and what’s more, I claim that the Fed must be destroyed]

Ron Paul as Catō Maior

[if you have no idea what my politics are, then I’ve designed this post correctly!]