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Cognates include Hittite sc=Xsux, Ancient Greek sc=polytonic, Sanskrit sc=Deva and Old English nama (English name).


  • /ˈnoː.mɛn/|lang=la


  1. name
  2. the middle name of a three-part freedman's Latin name
  3. title
  4. noun

Extensive Definition

By the Republican era and throughout the Imperial era, a name in ancient Rome for a male citizen consisted of three parts (tria nomina): praenomen (given name), nomen (gentile) (name of the gens or clan) and cognomen (name of a family line within the gens). The nomen, and later, cognomen were virtually always hereditary. Women usually did not have the praenomen and agnomen (nickname), which were normally distinct and not necessarily hereditary (unless the parents chose to).


In the early regal period of Rome, it appears that people were at first referred to by one name (e.g., Romulus, Manius). As Rome grew in area and population, a second, family name came into use. By the earliest days of the Republic, every member of a household had at least two names — praenomen, and the genitive form of the pater familias, which was a fixed and inherited nomen.
This binomial nomenclature was unique among Indo-European languages of that era. Also, the core part of the name (nomen) was the inherited gens name, not the given name (praenomen). This is probably why so few different praenomina were used.
Later in the Republic a cognomen was added to distinguish families within a gens, as the importance of the gens grew and the size of voting tribes required this differentiation. Thus patricians (nobility) commonly had three names (Tria Nomina). Although this system dates to the later 5th century BC, it was slow to take root, as it does not appear in official documents until the late 2nd century BC and was not common until the time of Sulla, right before the Empire. It was adopted even more slowly by non-patricians; the first examples of cognomina for plebeians date to c. 125 BC and it was not popular for another century.
In the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Empire), old Roman language, culture and names were gradually replaced by Greek ones.


The praenomen, equivalent to given names nowadays, was chosen by the parents (often named after the father). There was, however, a very limited selection of praenomina, such as Gaius, Gnaeus, Marcus, Quintus, Publius, Tiberius, and Titus. As a result, members from a given family often have identical names for generations. It was therefore necessary to use other names (cognomen and later, agnomen) to distinguish between individuals. Only intimates would use the praenomen.


see also list of Roman nomina The second name, or nomen gentile (usually simply nomen), rarely gentilicium, is the name of the gens (the family clan), in masculine form for men. The original gentes were descended from the family groups that settled Rome. These eventually developed into entire clans, which covered specific geographic regions. As the area of Rome expanded the number of tribes also expanded, so that not all tribes were from original settlers. Some were named for Etruscan families, while others were from local tribes or from major geographical features, such as rivers. Well-known nomina include many of the familiar names of ancient Rome, such as Aemilius, Claudius, Cornelius, Domitius, Julius, Junius, Pompeius, Antonius, and Valerius.


see also list of Roman cognomina
The third name, or cognomen, began as a nickname or personal name that distinguished individuals with the same names. Cognomina do not appear in official documents until around 100 BC. Often the cognomen was chosen based on some physical or personality trait, sometimes with ironic results: Julius Caesar's cognomen meant hairy (cf. etymology of the name of Julius Caesar) although he was balding, and Tacitus's cognomen meant silent, while he was a well-known orator. However, since the Republican era, the cognomen was no longer a nickname, becoming inherited from father to son, serving to distinguish a family within a gens.

Nomen-derived names

Some males had a cognomen that ends in -anus, which was adapted from and commemorated a nomen, sometimes their maternal family or – if they were adopted – their original paternal family. For instance, Vespasian's nomen (Flavius) came from his father's nomen. His cognomen (Vespasianus), on the other hand, was derived from his mother's nomen , Vespasia. Others had cognomina that were derived not from the nomen, but the cognomen of their mothers' families. For instance, Caracalla's maternal grandfather was Julius Bassianus, but Caracalla's cognomen was not Julianus, but rather Bassianus as well.
When a man was adopted into another family, his would take on his adopted father's names (excluding the praenomen). If he chose to, he could turn his original nomen into an additional cognomen that followed his newly gained names. For example, these adoptees incorporated into their new names their adopted family's nomen and cognomen, and also kept their birth family's nomen:


After cognomen became hereditary and lost its function as nicknames, a second nickname, or agnomen, is appended to the name after birth – usually not immediately so – to signify some personal characteristic or accomplishment. A common agnomen was Pius, for someone who displayed virtues like honesty, reverence to the gods, or devotion to family and state. Superbus ("Haughty") and Pulcher ("Handsome") were also examples of agnomina.
Unlike the nomen and cognomen, an agnomen was usually not inherited unless the son also had the same attribute or did the same deeds. Although some victory agnomina like Augustus ("First Citizen") and Germanicus ("the German (Conqueror)") eventually became handed down as additional cognomina.
Names adapted from nomina (with the -anus suffix) are sometimes considered agnomina. Priscian specifically cites Claudianus and Aemilianus as examples.

Foreign names

As Rome conquered territories beyond the Italian peninsula, many foreign names were introduced. Discharged auxiliary soldiers and others gaining Roman Citizenship could, and many did, continue to use at least a portion of their former names. Most were of Greek origin, while others came from regions that were brought under Roman influence. Non-citizen auxiliary soldiers who were granted citizenship often adopted the nomen of their Emperor, adding their native name as a cognomen.
New citizens often also took on the nomen of the reigning emperor. For instance, after Caracalla ("Marcus Aurelius Antoninus") expanded citizenship to all freedmen in the empire, many of them took on the nomen Aurelius. (Caracalla's real nomen was actually Septimius. Aurelius was a pretension to Roman nobility.)

Female names

Roman women usually had no praenomen and were known only by the feminine form of their father's nomen so that daughters were all named with the same feminine version of the family nomen. If further description was needed, the name was followed by the genitive case of her father's cognomen or, after marriage, of her husband's. Hence, Cicero speaks of a woman as "Annia P. Anni senatoris filia" (Annia the daughter of P. Annius the senator). By the late Republic, women also adopted the feminine form of their father's cognomen, e.g., Aquilia Severa was the daughter of Aquilius and married a Severus (in her case, both of her names are derived from nomina). Feminized cognomen was often made a diminutive, e.g. Augustus's wife Livia Drusilla was the daughter of a M. Livius Drusus.
If only two daughters survived, they could be distinguished as major and minor. Marcus Antonius's daughters were Antonia major (grandmother of the emperor Nero) and Antonia minor (mother of the emperor Claudius). If a family had more than two daughters, they were distinguished by ordinal numbers: Cornelia Quinta, the fifth daughter of a Cornelius. The epithets of major and minor also served to distinguish between daughters and mothers of the same name, e.g., Agrippina the Younger and Julia the Younger, respective daughters of Agrippina the Elder and Julia the Elder.

Additional elements and examples


In earlier Roman names, the praenomen and nomen gentile constituted a Roman's full name and were followed by the so-called filiation (a patronymic or indication of paternity). The filiation (patronimicus) consisted of the Latin word for "son" filius (abbreviated by the letter f.) preceded by the abbreviation of the father's praenomen, which was understood in the genitive. Hence, a Roman might have been known as M. Antonius M. f. (Marci filius), that is, Marcus Antonius, son of Marcus. Additionally it could also indicate the grandfather with the word "grandson" nepos (abbreviated by the letter n.).
By the Middle Republic, the abbreviation for tribe in which the man was enrolled was added after his filiation. When this became an official part of the name is not known.


see also List of Roman tribes
A tribe was a geographic distinction, not an indication of ancestry. A man belonged to the tribe in which his main residence was located. The tribe was an essential part of citizenship, since voting was often carried out by tribe. With the expansion of the Empire, the number of tribes also grew. See list of Roman tribes.

Sample analysis of a complete name

Analysis of an example complete name: Marcus Aurelius Lucii f. Quinti n. tribu Galeria Antoninus Felix, domo Caesaraugusta.
In everyday use, people were referred to by their cognomen, or praenomen plus nomen gentile. So, "Marcus Livius Drusus" would either be just "Drusus" or "Marcus Livius". "Iulia Marciana" would be just "Iulia". This has created problems for modern scholars, since in many cases we no longer have the contemporaneous context to know which person was actually meant.

Evolution of a personal name

In Ancient Rome, a person's name was not static but often evolved with his status or social connections. Here is the evolution of the official name of the first emperor, Augustus:
63 BC: Augustus is born
  • Gaius Octavius Gaii filius
    • Gaius of the gens Octavius, son of Gaius
44 BC: Julius Caesar dies. In his will he adopts Gaius Octavius. See Adoption in Rome.
  • Gaius Iulius Gaii filius Caesar Octauianus
    • Gaius Caesar of the gens Julius, son of Gaius, originally of the gens Octavius
42 BC: Julius Caesar is deified, prompting a change in Augustus' name.
  • Gaius Iulius Diui filius Caesar Octauianus
    • Gaius Caesar of the gens Julius, son of the Deified, originally of the gens Octavius
31 BC: Augustus is declared imperator by the army
  • Imperator Gaius Iulius Diui filius Caesar Octauianus
    • Imperator Gaius Caesar of the gens Julius, son of the Deified, originally of the gens Octavius
27 BC: The Roman Senate grants the title Augustus. Augustus assumes his official regnal name.
  • Imperator Caesar Diui filius Augustus
    • Imperator Caesar the August, son of the Deified


nomen in Catalan: Noms romans
nomen in Czech: Nomen
nomen in Danish: Tria nomina
nomen in German: Römischer Name
nomen in Spanish: Nombre romano
nomen in French: Noms romains
nomen in Croatian: Rimska osobna imena
nomen in Icelandic: Rómverskar nafnavenjur
nomen in Italian: Tria nomina
nomen in Hebrew: שמות רומאיים
nomen in Japanese: 古代ローマの人名
nomen in Georgian: რომაული სახელები
nomen in Hungarian: Római névadási szokások
nomen in Dutch: Romeinse namen
nomen in Norwegian: Tria nomina
nomen in Portuguese: Convenção romana de nomes
nomen in Russian: Римские имена
nomen in Serbian: Латинска имена
nomen in Serbo-Croatian: Rimska imena
nomen in Finnish: Roomalainen nimi

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

agnomen, appellation, appellative, binomen, binomial name, byword, cognomen, cryptonym, denomination, designation, empty title, epithet, eponym, euonym, handle, honorific, hyponym, label, moniker, name, namesake, nomen nudum, praenomen, proper name, proper noun, scientific name, secret name, style, tag, tautonym, title, trinomen, trinomial name
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