Latin Language Blog

Ancient Roman Names Posted by on May 24, 2009 in Latin Language

Back in ancient Roman times, most male citizens were named in three parts or the tria nomina. The praenomen is what we call the first name. In Latin, it literally means forename. In many cases, parents just chose to name their sons after male relatives, like a grandfather. Only close friends and family could address a male Roman citizen by his praenomen. I’ve given some examples of Roman first names, with the meanings in parentheses.

1) Faustus (lucky)

2) Flavius (golden)

3) Publicus (public)

4) Servius (to preserve)

5) Manius (morning)

The nomen gentile is what we now call the “last name”. In ancient Roman times, this was the name of your clan. The first people that settled Rome were grouped into clans. The nomen was especially handy in distinguishing people with the same praenomen. Here are some examples of a couple of famous clan names you’ve probably read about or head about in your Latin history class.

1) Valerius

2) Claudius

3) Tulius

4) Pompeius

5) Antonius

The cognomen is a nickname or a personal name. The cognomen were names that often described the person’s physical traits or personality. What’s interesting about the cognomen is that it began to be passed down to later generations. As a result, grandsons would have a cognomen that may not have described their physical or personality traits in accuracy. The famed general Julius Caesar’s cognomen actually meant “hairy”, which was ironic because he was bald. Here are some examples of cognomen. Some of them are quite funny or interesting.

1) Caligula – little boots

2) Felix – lucky, happy

3) Magnus – great

4) Flavius – blond

5) Catullus – puppy

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