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Nephele

The Heritage of Roman Names

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I was originally going to post this to the topic Where do you see Latin today?, but it got kind of involved so I decided to start a new topic here on names that we see today that recall the days of ancient Rome.

 

The U.S. Social Security Administration lists on their website the top names given to babies born in the U.S., and the U.K. Statistics Authority also list on their website the top names for boys and girls born in England and Wales.

 

My own list below consists of names taken from the U.S. and U.K. top 100 names lists for both boys and girls born in the year 2007. I have, though the information I've given below, linked these modern-day names to those Roman names which preceded them.

 

Here are the descendants of the proud Romans of yesteryear. Top names from England and Wales are in blue. Enjoy!

 

#1 Emily and #77 Amelia: derived from the nomen gentilicium of Aemilius. Emily and Amelia also placed #4 and #10 on the top girls names list for England and Wales.

 

#2 Ruby: derived from the cognomina and Latin words Ruber and Rubidus, meaning "red, reddish" (from whence comes the name of the ruby gemstone).

 

#7 Anthony and #96 Antonio: derived from the nomen gentilicium of Antonius.

 

#11 Lucy: derived from the praenomen Lucius, and the cognomina Lucianus, Lucilus, Lucinus, Luciolus, Luciosus, Lucullus, etc., meaning "light".

 

#17 Natalie: derived from the cognomina Natalis, Natalianus, Natalicus, Natalinus, Natalio, Natalius, etc., relating to birth. This name had special significance among Rome's early Christians, who applied the meaning to the birth of Jesus.

 

#20 Grace and #96 Gracie: derived from the feminine cognomen and Latin word Gratia, meaning "grace". Grace and Gracie placed #1 and #68 on the top girls names list for England and Wales.

 

#28 Lauren: derived from the cognomina Laurens and Laurentius, meaning "from Laurentum", a town in Latium near Ostia. Lauren placed #47 on the top girls names list for England and Wales.

 

#29 Victoria: derived from the feminine cognomen and Latin word Victoria, meaning "victory, conquest". Victoria placed #97 on the top girls names list for England and Wales.

 

#30 Max: derived from the cognomina Maximus, Maxantius, Maxellius, Maxentius, Maximanus, Maximianus, Maximillus, Maximio, Maximius, Maximo, etc., meaning "great, distinguished".

 

#41 Destiny: derived from the cognomen and Latin word Destinatus, meaning "fixed, determined".

 

#44 Justin: derived from the cognomen Iustinus, which in turn was derived from the cognomen Iustus, meaning "just, equitable, fair".

 

#47 Leo and #75 Leon: derived from the cognomina Leo, Leonianus, Leonicus, Leoninus, Leonius, meaning "lion, of a lion, leonine".

 

#48 Austin: derived from the cognomen Augustinus, which in turn was derived from Augustus, the honorary cognomen given to Emperor Octavian, meaning "majestic, diginified".

 

#61 Adrian: derived from the cognomen Adrianus and Hadrianus, meaning "from Hadria", the name of two ancient towns -- one in Picenum and one in Venetia.

 

#61 Rosie and #95 Rose: derived from the cognomina Rosa, Rosarius, Rosatus, Rosatianus, meaning "a rose, garland of roses, made of roses".

 

#66 Claire: derived from the cognomina Clarus, Claranus, Clarentius, Clarianus, Claricus, Clarinus, Clario, Clarissimus, Clarosus, meaning "bright, famous, illustrious."

 

#66 Julian: derived from Iulianus, an adoptive cognomen formed from the nomen gentilicium of Iulius.

 

#85 Dominic: derived from the cognomen Dominicus, an early Roman Christian theophoric name meaning "of the Lord". Dominic also placed #97 on the top boys names list for England and Wales.

 

#89 Julia: derived from the nomen gentilicium of Iulius.

 

#91 Autumn: derived from Autumna, Autumnina, feminine cognomina relating to the season of autumn.

 

#98 Valeria: derived from the nomen gentilicium of Valerius.

 

If there's interest in this here, I may expand this to include names of Roman origin taken from the top 1,000 modern-day boys and girls names lists.

 

-- Nephele

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Are Patrick/Patricia offshoots of Patrician?

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Are Patrick/Patricia offshoots of Patrician?

 

That's correct, Spittle:

 

#116 Patrick and #442 Patricia: derived from the cognomen Patricius, meaning "patrician, noble".

 

The irony of it is that I don't know of any actual patrician families of ancient Rome who ever used the cognomen of Patricius (or its diminutive, Patriciolus). The actual nobility was noted for having some rather pejorative cognomina, such as Flaccus ("flop-ears") of the Valerii, Gurges ("glutton") of the Fabii, and Lentulus ("tardy") of the Cornelii.

 

EDIT: Having just written that, Smith's Dictionary notes a patrician Patricius -- "the second son of the patrician Aspar, so powerful in the reign of the emperor Leo I, who owed his elevation to Aspar's influence."

 

So I should amend what I previously wrote by stating that there were no patrician families of the Republic who used the name Patricius, the use of this name being a later development in Roman history -- around the 5th century, which is also the same time period that the Catholic saint Patrick of Ireland made this name popular.

 

-- Nephele

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Are Patrick/Patricia offshoots of Patrician?

 

That's correct, Spittle:

 

#116 Patrick and #442 Patricia: derived from the cognomen Patricius, meaning "patrician, noble".

 

I have suspected that for some time (Since my name is Patrik people have from time to time asked me about it). It's good to have it confirmed.

Edited by Klingan

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Would the common naming system in the western world, in which every person have three names, would also be a heritage of the roman naming system?

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Would the common naming system in the western world, in which every person have three names, would also be a heritage of the roman naming system?

 

Well something must have changed since the first name now is much more important then the second, in contrast to the ancient roman world where the first name was rather worthless and the second well used.

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Would the common naming system in the western world, in which every person have three names, would also be a heritage of the roman naming system?

 

I'm not certain I know which common naming system in the Western world to which you're referring, Ingsoc. Are you talking about the custom of people giving their children middle names?

 

There's evidence that the use of middle names in Western society came about only within the past few centuries and, even then, our modern-day system of first/middle/last names is not really comparable to the Roman system of the tria nomina. In the tria nomina Roman system, the "second" name (the nomen gentilicium) was inherited, and the "third" name (the cognomen) was more often than not inherited as well.

 

Middle names today in Western society are generally given to complement first names, and the ancient Romans saw no need for that. If they did see a need for an additional descriptive name (to differentiate between those who had the same praenomen, nomen gentilicium, and cognomen), they would add on a fourth name -- an additional cognomen or agnomen.

 

-- Nephele

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Since you know names Nephele, do you know why the Roman name developed into what it became?

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Since you know names Nephele, do you know why the Roman name developed into what it became?

 

That's a long subject to discuss, but the short version is that the ancient Romans started out with single names, which developed into a duo-name system of given praenomina (many of which became obsolete as time went on and the praenomen lost its importance) and inherited nomina gentilicia (to indicate clans). As the Roman population grew and became more sophisticated, requiring better differentiation among members, cognomina developed. These early cognomina were first used by the patricians, to distinguish different family branches within their clans.

 

However, not all Romans during the time of the Republic used the tria nomina system which one reads about on so many websites as "being a mark of Roman citizenship". There were some gentes which never used any cognomina at all, providing plenty of Roman citizens, even of the senatorial class, who retained just a praenomen and nomen gentilicium. A perusal of Broughton's Magistrates of the Roman Republic offers up a number of these cognomina-free individuals of the senatorial class.

 

-- Nephele

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Yeah I know how it works that far :D Thanks anyway ;)

 

What I'm interested in primarily is why the first name declined in importance as the third names importance (at least in a great deal of cases) grew. I know that the Etruscans also had very few first names to move around with (10-15 ish) and I would guess that there must have been influence in some direction. What's interesting is that they had the same way of just writing one or two letters for the first name as the romans too.

 

I could guess that the first name declined because of the lack of preanomena, but that I fell that it cannot serve as a full explanation, it's more of an effect. It would have been as easy to make up new first names and cognomen.

 

But then again even as the Etruscans influenced the romans at some levels their language was not (from what i know) one of those fields.

 

I would very much like to hear the long explanation if you have a link or the time to write a short summary!

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I could guess that the first name declined because of the lack of preanomena, but that I fell that it cannot serve as a full explanation, it's more of an effect. It would have been as easy to make up new first names and cognomen.

 

I quoted Dr. Benet Salway (of University College, London) in my article Roman Naming Practices During the Principate Period, who used the term "fossilized" to describe how, over time, praenomina were becoming "less individuating and less of a consciously given name." This had much to do (as you noted yourself) with the lack of a variety of praenomina in common usage, but even more to do with the fact that cognomina (especially by the end of the first century BCE) were becoming more numerous and more useful in identifying individuals. This was due to the fact that cognomina described physical features, place of origin, occupation, etc., much as do our modern-day surnames.

 

Another reason for the cognomen overtaking the praenomen (especially by the end of the first century CE when the praenomen was by this time retained mostly as a nod to bygone tradition) was the introduction into Rome of numerous foreigners, and their eventual enfranchisement. As new citizens, they adopted the praenomina and nomina gentilicia of their patrons, but they retained their original names (often Latinized) as their cognomina, by which they were generally known. In addition, many of these new citizens were also known by a signum -- a sort of given nickname which served as an additional identifier. The nomen gentilicium was retained by citizens, of both old families and new, because it always indicated the clan to which a citizen had been born, or it indicated the patron of the new citizen. But the praenomen didn't tell much of anything, thus contributing to its uselessness.

 

-- Nephele

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I wish my mother had named me something vaguely Greco-Roman, instead of naming me after some Old Testament prophet. *sigh*

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I'll read that article later! Do we know why new praenomina didn't developed?

 

Again back to my Etruscan trail. Do you believe that there might be a connection? They names doesn't sound the same but it's a (at least from my point a view) reasonably similar way of naming. (Very common first names (Shorted in inscriptions), family names and sometimes branch names.)

 

It's also interesting to notice that the Etruscans once had many praenomen but lost most of then rather quickly. Could something similar happened in Rome? Possibly during the royal period.

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Do we know why new praenomina didn't developed?

 

The praenomen was never an important identifying designation for Roman males, and lost its use for Roman females very early in Roman history. More often than not, the praenomen was arbitrarily bestowed. We can surmise from this that the Romans simply didn't see any value in devising new and inventive praenomina to give to their children, as we moderns do today.

 

Some Romans of the more noble families did make an attempt to revive old cognomina as "new" praenomina. We find the Claudii towards the end of the Republic using the cognomina Drusus and Nero as praenomina, and the Cornelii Lentuli revived the cognomen of Cossus as a praenomen. But this doesn't appear to have been a wide-spread practice.

 

Again back to my Etruscan trail. Do you believe that there might be a connection? They names doesn't sound the same but it's a (at least from my point a view) reasonably similar way of naming. (Very common first names (Shorted in inscriptions), family names and sometimes branch names.)

 

Yes, you're right in having previously pointed out the connection between the Etruscans and the Romans. The Romans were definitely influenced by Etruscan customs in their naming practices, as I mentioned in this thread regarding some Romans' adopted use of matronymics. We also find a few nomina gentilicia of Etruscan origin, identifiable by their "-na" ending (as in the gens names of Perperna and Caecina), instead of the usual "-ius" ending.

 

-- Nephele

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Isn't 'Grace' also in the top 100? I had a quick look at www.statistics.gov.uk which has it at no. 13. I'm mildly appalled to see that Chelsea has made it as well. Has anyone pointed out to the proud parents that the origin of the word is 'port' - i.e. somewhere sailors dock?

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