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)

Roman Names

Summary of Name Structure

The typical Roman had three names: the praenōmen (first name), the nōmen (gēns name), and the cōgnōmen (family name).

  • Mārcus Tullius Cicerō =
  • Mārcus (what’s up, Marcus?) +
  • Tullius (the time-honored descendants of Servius Tullius, 6th kind of Rome)
  • Cicero (the Cicero family, descended from some particular Tullian who earned the nickname ‘chickpea’)

A gēns is much larger than a family, and a Roman was more formally and less intimately attached to the name. ‘Mārcus Tullius Cicerō‘ may be compared to todays ‘John Proper III, descendant of James Black, Duke of York.’

  • On the day-to-day, he was just Mārcus Cicerō
  • When two members of the same family are mentioned together, the cōgnōmen is plural: Pūblius et Servius Sullae

What About Women?

No first names–no praenōmina, and no family names–no cōgnōmina.

  • Cicero’s daughter was Tullia
  • Further daughters would have been Tullia secundaTullia tertia, etc. 

The Essential AG: 108, 108b

Famous Phrase: nōmen est ōmen : the name is a sign

[tied with nominative determinism–the outlook that given names inform what we become and how we develop]