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Denia

What's in a name

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In the past few weeks I changed most of the names in my novel (after discussing some of them on this forum). I would be very glad if some of you would take a look at the list of characters below (or a part of it) and tell me if I

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- Daughter Tertia (she's the third child, but also the third daughter, as two daughters before her have died as babies or little children)

 

I don't believe your Tertia would still be called "Tertia" if there were no longer any living "Prima" and "Secunda" in the family, particularly if the sisters born before Tertia didn't survive infancy long enough for any distinguishing names for them to have mattered. These feminine numerical names were used to distinguish living sisters by order of birth -- they weren't really formal "given names".

 

- Business man Marcellus Vinicius Marius (who is in love with Tertia)

 

Try changing "Marcellus" to the praenomen "Marcus". Also, "Marius" is a nomen gentilicium -- not a cognomen. I would suggest you change that, too.

 

- His elder brother Primus

 

I suggest you change the elder brother's praenomen as well, from "Primus". Although you could possibly get away with using "Primus" as his praenomen, considering the time period of your story. Just bear in mind that "Primus" was never used as a praenomen until after the time of the Republic, and your story is set only about a century after the time of the Republic.

 

- Their elder half-brother Publius Vinicius Sergius

 

You'll have to supply a plausible reason for why the elder half-brother doesn't possess the same nomen gentilicium and cognomen as his younger half-brother, if they have the same father. Also, Sergius isn't really a cognomen.

 

- Helvia's brother Falcus (or should it be Falco?)

 

Yes, Falco.

 

- Arius' girlfriend A

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Thanks very much, Nephele, for your early reply :) ! But I can see I still have a lot to change.

 

I don't believe your Tertia would still be called "Tertia" if there were no longer any living "Prima" and "Secunda" in the family, particularly if the sisters born before Tertia didn't survive infancy long enough for any distinguishing names for them to have mattered. These feminine numerical names were used to distinguish living sisters by order of birth -- they weren't really formal "given names".

Allright, this will mean I have to change the whole story and create two living sisters or I have to give Tertia a completely different name

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Thanks very much, Nephele, for your early reply :) ! But I can see I still have a lot to change.

 

I don't believe your Tertia would still be called "Tertia" if there were no longer any living "Prima" and "Secunda" in the family, particularly if the sisters born before Tertia didn't survive infancy long enough for any distinguishing names for them to have mattered. These feminine numerical names were used to distinguish living sisters by order of birth -- they weren't really formal "given names".

Allright, this will mean I have to change the whole story and create two living sisters or I have to give Tertia a completely different name

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Normally, I don't like to give feedback on creative work before it's done. It feels presumptuous on my part. More, it's hard to do anything creative well, requiring risk-taking on the part of the artist, who is understandably proud of his work and very sensitive to feedback. But since you asked...

 

I don't agree with the philosophy of deriving character's names from the roles they fill in the novel. Take the names of your prostitutes as an example. What mother looks upon her baby daughter and thinks to herself, "Ah! Why she looks just like a whore--I'll call her Semele, after the goddess of the night"? It's totally unbelievable. Moreover, prostitutes in the ancient world were very often sex slaves, meaning many were born as free women with their own hopes and identity before they were brutally captured, sent to Rome in chains, beaten by their masters, and raped into submission. Do you really want to give these poor women a name that says, in effect, 'This woman was a whore from birth.' I'm sure you don't mean to communicate that.

 

There's another tack that can be effective (if used with restraint)--give your characters names that are dramatically ironic. For example, find a name for a prostitute that is derived from "chastity" or "purity" or "hope" or something like that. There's a horror to seeing a woman named 'chastity' in a brothel--it communicates what a totally unnatural and abominable situation is at hand. Moreover, in a single name, you communicate what the Empire meant to hundreds of thousands of people: "To robbery, slaughter, and rapine, they give the lying name of empire; they make a desert and call it peace" (Tacitus).

 

As I say, it's critical to use ironic naming with restraint. Not every prostitute was born with a heart of gold (that's as tasteless a cliche as the opposite), so by all means, feel free to give one or two exotic, slutty names. In fact, the contrast between the two types of names can be very effective, saying (in effect) "Any woman could find herself in that situation." And that's how you can elicit empathy from your readers.

 

On another note, I think the main Christian girl in Quo Vadis was named Lydia, so you might want to choose another name to avoid the appearance of imitation.

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First of all, I

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Thanks very much, Nephele, for your early reply :( ! But I can see I still have a lot to change.

 

Aisha is an Arabic name. It's a popular Islamic name today, because Aisha was the name of the favorite wife of the prophet Muhammed.

Would it be a problem then, if I use it?

 

Well, you did say that this character is Egyptian, and that your story is set in the first century CE. Not only is "Aisha" a name which originated in the Arabian peninsula, but the earliest recorded Aisha (I believe) was from the 7th century CE. That's not to say that the name couldn't have been in use earlier, but it seems unlikely that your Egyptian character of the 1st century CE might bear such a name. Actually, if your Egyptian character should happen to be from the city of Alexandria, it's more likely that she might have a Greek name.

 

Anyway, this is a good opportunity to bring our language scholar, Docoflove, in on this discussion, as she can offer some insight into the difference between the language of the ancient Egyptians and the language of the desert dwellers in the Arabian peninsula, and how this might relate to your choice of name for your character.

 

-- Nephele

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Anyway, this is a good opportunity to bring our language scholar, Docoflove, in on this discussion, as she can offer some insight into the difference between the language of the ancient Egyptians and the language of the desert dwellers in the Arabian peninsula, and how this might relate to your choice of name for your character.

 

Actually, in this case it's not a question of language as it is one of history. The Arabic influence as we know it now doesn't happen until Islam is spread across the Near East and the African coast of the Mediterranean, which doesn't happen until the middle of the 7th century (in the case of Egypt). It doesn't fit into your timeline, Denia.

 

The language of the ancient Egyptians is an Afro-Asiatic language, but not of the Semitic branch (which is the branch of both Hebrew and Arabic). I know we got into this discussion on the board...click here for the discussion.

 

If I recall correctly, the opera Aida is based on an Egyptian story, with the title referring to an Egyptian princess...maybe that's a more appropriate name.

 

Edit by Nephele: Fixed broken link.

Edited by Nephele

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One does have to be careful about names in novels - and we all fall foul of conventions. For instance, I usually stick to safe 'names from Greek mythology etc' for my slaves, but ever since I took the first tentative steps with my Livia, her personal slave was called 'Sabina'. She is an important character and a much-loved one, so although I did not want to change her name (it suits her, believe me), I did realise early on that - 'Wait a mo, you fool - Sabina is the feminine form of the gens Sabinus.' I got around this quite easily by having Sabina retain the name of her previous master Sabinus, and explaining quickly why that name was kept instead of any slave name she may have been given. But I felt I had to do this because Sabina as a female name would have been easily spotted by anyone who knew their Roman history as much or even more than I did.

 

These things are very easy to overlook. Although Nephele and Doc will offer the best advice regarding naming patterns etc., all I will say is that before you even begin your story, make sure you have a thorough grounding in the history of your period. If not, you may find that your story will run into difficulties that you never even imagined. Names are just the start of it...

 

As Nephele and Doc pointed out regarding your Arabic name 'Aisha' - I have a slave of Octavian's of Syrian origins. I have given him a Greek name, so it doesn't matter - but I had toyed with the idea of letting the reader know his real name before slavery. I abandoned this quite quickly when scouring the Internet for Syriac names because all the ones I found had Arab 7th century origins. This would not have been authentic for a 1st century BC slave. So, the best advice I can give is, don't make things even more difficult for yourself, and make sure you check every little thing, no matter how inconsequential it may seem at the time. Sixty percent of your readership might not know the difference - but that 40% who do - phew - they will seize on it.

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So, the best advice I can give is, don't make things even more difficult for yourself, and make sure you check every little thing, no matter how inconsequential it may seem at the time. Sixty percent of your readership might not know the difference - but that 40% who do - phew - they will seize on it.

Yes, I know. I'm really worried about that 40%. My biggest problem is that I had started writing before I did enough research after names. It's difficult to change names when you feel like you know your character. But I know I just have to...

The problem is I don't know where to find a lot of correct names, especially cognomina. The list on Wikipedia didn't work :) But I'm very pleased with the help you all offer.

 

If I recall correctly, the opera Aida is based on an Egyptian story, with the title referring to an Egyptian princess...maybe that's a more appropriate name.

Actually when I started the story a few years ago, I remembered Aida was Egyptian, but everyone knew that name from the opera. So I changed it into Aisha... Only the 'sh' is different :)

Well, I'll try to find another name. Maybe I could use the name of a less important character from Aida.

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After searching on Google I found the emperor Marcus Aurelius Marius (268). It seems to me that

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He probably took the Marcus Aurelius name when he became an emperor and if so, this is not his true name. He was not from an old roman family, so names in cases like that are less relevant.

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After searching on Google I found the emperor Marcus Aurelius Marius (268). It seems to me that

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The leading family:

- Father Gaius Caecilius Severus (he is aedilis)

- Mother Caecilia Metella

 

Very kinky. Gaius Caecilius and Caecilia are spouses as well as siblings? If not siblings, which of the Caecilii was Caecilia's father? If none were, from whose gens did she descend? That gens should be source of her nomen (and she should have no praenomen or agnomen).

 

I also agree with Nephele about Marius.

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Denia, do you have a title for your book yet?

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