The praenomen (Classical Latin: [ˈprae̯:.noː.mɛn]; plural: praenomina) was a personal name chosen by the parents of a Roman child. It was first bestowed on the dies lustricus (day of lustration), the eighth day after the birth of a girl, or the ninth day after the birth of a boy. The praenomen would then be formally conferred a second time when girls married, or when boys assumed the toga virilis upon reaching manhood. Although it was the oldest of the tria nomina commonly used in Roman naming conventions, by the late republic, most praenomina were so common that most people were called by their praenomina only by family or close friends. For this reason, although they continued to be used, praenomina gradually disappeared from public records during imperial times. Although both men and women received praenomina, women's praenomina were frequently ignored, and they were gradually abandoned by many Roman families, though they continued to be used in some families and in the countryside.
1 Background 2 Latin praenomina
2.1 Masculine names 2.2 Feminine names 2.3 The meaning of praenomina 2.4 Historical trends
3 Oscan and Umbrian praenomina 4 Etruscan praenomina
4.1 Masculine names 4.2 Feminine names
5 See also 6 References
The tria nomina, consisting of praenomen, nomen and cognomen, which
are today regarded as a distinguishing feature of Roman culture, first
developed and spread throughout
Agrippa (Agr.) Appius (Ap.) Aulus (A.) Caeso (K.) Decimus (D.) Faustus (F.) Gaius (C.) Gnaeus (Cn.) Hostus Lucius (L.) Mamercus (Mam.) Manius (M'.) Marcus (M.) Mettius Nonus Numerius (N.) Octavius (Oct.) Opiter (Opet.) Paullus Postumus (Post.) Proculus (Pro.) Publius (P.) Quintus (Q.) Septimus Sertor (Sert.) Servius (Ser.) Sextus (Sex.) Spurius (S.) Statius (St.) Tiberius (Ti.) Titus (T.) Tullus Vibius (V.) Volesus (Vol.) Vopiscus (Vop.)
Caeso is frequently (especially in older records) spelled Kaeso. The
abbreviation K. was retained to distinguish the name from Gaius,
Gaius and Gnaeus are abbreviated with C. and Cn., respectively,
because the practice of abbreviating them was already established at
the time the letter G, a modified C, was introduced to the Latin
alphabet. Although the archaic spellings Caius and Cnaeus also appear
in later records, Gaius and Gnaeus represent the actual pronunciation
of these names.
Manius was originally abbreviated with an archaic five-stroke M (ꟿ),
borrowed from the Etruscan alphabet (from which the
Some of the praenomina in this list are known from only a few examples. However, the overall sample from which they have been taken represents only a small fraction of the entire Roman populace. The Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft mentions about ten thousand individuals whose praenomina are known from surviving works of history, literature, and various inscriptions. These individuals are spread over a period of over twelve centuries, with the smallest sample coming from the early Republic, when the greatest variety of praenomina was in use. During that same period, the sample consists almost entirely of Roman men belonging to the leading patrician families. Many of the names which were uncommon amongst the patricians appear to have been more widespread amongst the plebeians, and the appearance of rare names in Latin inscriptions outside of Rome suggests that many names which were uncommon at Rome were much more common in other parts of Latium. Feminine names In the earliest period, both men and women used praenomina. However, with the adoption of hereditary surnames, the praenomen lost much of its original importance. The number of praenomina in general use declined steadily throughout Roman history, and as most families used the same praenomina from one generation to the next, the praenomen became less useful for distinguishing between individuals. Women's praenomina gradually fell into disuse, and by the first century the majority of Roman women either did not have or did not use praenomina. A similar process occurred throughout Italy, except amongst the Etruscans, for whom feminine praenomina were the rule. The abandonment of women's praenomina over time was more the result of practical usage than a deliberate process. Because Latin names had both masculine and feminine forms, the nomen itself was sufficient to distinguish a Roman woman from her father and brothers. Roman women did not change their names when they married, so a Roman wife usually did not share her nomen with any other members of her family. Diminutives, nicknames, and personal cognomina could be used to differentiate between sisters. When there were two sisters, they were frequently referred to as Major and Minor, with these terms appearing after the nomen or cognomen; if there were more than two, the eldest might be called Maxima, and the younger sisters assigned numerical cognomina. Many of the cognomina used by women originated as praenomina, and for much of Roman history there seems to have been a fashion for "inverting" women's praenomina and cognomina; names that were traditionally regarded as praenomina were often placed after a woman's nomen or cognomen, as if a surname, even though they were used as praenomina. The reverse was also common, especially in imperial times; a personal cognomen would be placed before a woman's nomen, in the place of a praenomen. In both cases, the name was functionally a praenomen, irrespective of its position in the name. For this reason, it is often impossible to distinguish between women's praenomina and personal cognomina. In imperial times, Roman women were more likely to have praenomina if they had several older sisters. A daughter who had been called simply by her nomen for several years was less likely to receive a praenomen than her younger sisters, and because it was usually easy to distinguish between two daughters without using praenomina, the need for traditional personal names did not become acute until there were at least three sisters in a family. Tertia and Quarta were common praenomina, while Secunda was less common, and Prima rarer still. Maxima, Maio, and Mino were also used as praenomina, although it may be debated whether they represent true personal names. Paulla was probably given to younger daughters, and was one of the most common praenomina. Most other women's praenomina were simply the feminine forms of familiar masculine praenomina. Examples are known of all common praenomina, as well as a number of less-common ones. Only in the case of praenomina which had irregular masculine forms is there some uncertainty; but these probably became feminine by taking diminutive forms. Caesula or Caesilla appears to have been the feminine form of Caeso, and the personal cognomen Agrippina probably represents the feminine form of Agrippa. Two notable exceptions to the usual formation are Marcia and Titia, both of which regularly formed as "i-stem" nouns, instead of the expected Marca and Tita (although those forms are also found). Feminine praenomina were usually abbreviated in the same manner as their masculine counterparts, but were often written in full. One notable exception occurs in the filiations of liberti, where the abbreviation "C." for Gaia was frequently reversed to indicate the freedman of a woman. Here the name "Gaia" seems to have been used generically to represent any woman, although in some instances an inverted "M." for Marcia seems to have been used as well. The following list includes feminine praenomina which are known or reasonably certain from extant sources and inscriptions, and which were clearly used as praenomina, rather than nicknames or inverted cognomina. Several variations are known for some praenomina, of which only the most regular are given in this table. The abbreviations are usually the same as for the corresponding masculine praenomina; where variation exists, only the most common abbreviation has been provided. A few of these names were normally written in full, or have not been found with regular abbreviations.
Appia (Ap.) Aula (A.) Caesula Decima (D.) Fausta (F.) Gaia (C.) Gnaea (Cn.) Hosta (H.) Lucia (L.) Maio (Mai.) Mamerca (Mam.) Mania (M'.) Marcia (M.) Maxima Mettia Mino (Min.) Nona Numeria (N.) Octavia (Oct.) Paulla Postuma (Post.) Prima Procula (Pro.) Publia (P.) Quarta Quinta (Q.) Secunda (Seq.) Septima Servia (Ser.) Sexta (Sex.) Spuria (Sp.) Statia (St.) Tertia Titia (T.) Tiberia (Ti.) Tulla Vibia (V.) Volusa (Vol.) Vopisca (Vop.)
Maio and Mino are the forms usually found as praenomina, although Major and Minor are also found. As cognomina, Major and Minor seem to have been preferred. Secunda was usually abbreviated Seq., although Sec. is also common. In archaic Latin, C was used primarily before E and I, while Q appeared before O and U, and K before A. In a few instances the name is written Sequnda.
The meaning of praenomina
Philologists have debated the origin and meaning of these names since
classical antiquity. However, many of the meanings popularly assigned
to various praenomina appear to have been no more than "folk
etymology". The names derived from numbers are the most certain. The
masculine names Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius and Decimus, and
the feminine names Prima, Secunda, Tertia, Quarta, Quinta, Sexta,
Septima, Octavia, Nona and Decima are all based on ordinal numbers.
There may also have been a praenomen Nonus, as there was a gens with
the apparently patronymic name of Nonius, although no examples of its
use as a praenomen have survived.
It is generally held that these names originally referred to the order
of a child's birth, although some scholars believe that they might
also have referred to the month of the Roman calendar in which a child
was born. Like the masculine praenomina, the months of the old Roman
Calendar had names based on the numbers five through ten: Quintilis
(July), Sextilis (August), September, October, November, and December.
However, this hypothesis does not account for the feminine praenomina
Prima, Secunda, Tertia, and Quarta, nor does it explain why Septimus,
Octavius, and perhaps Nonus were rarely used.
Several other praenomina were believed to refer to the circumstances
of a child's birth; for instance, Agrippa was said to refer to a child
who was born feet-first; Caeso to a child born by the operation known
today as a Caesarean section; Lucius to one born at dawn; Manius to
one born in the morning; Numerius to one born easily; Opiter to one
whose father had died, leaving his grandfather as head of the family;
Postumus to a last-born child (whether or not the father was dead);
Proculus to one whose father was far away; Vopiscus to the survivor of
twins, the other of whom was born dead. Most of these are not based on
credible etymology, although the meanings assigned to Lucius, Manius,
and Postumus are probably reasonable.
Amongst other credible meanings assigned to praenomina, Faustus
certainly means "fortunate" in Latin; Gaius is thought to derive from
the same root as gaudere, "to rejoice"; Gnaeus refers to a birthmark;
Marcus and Mamercus refer to the gods Mars and Mamers (perhaps an
Oscan manifestation of Mars); Paullus means "small"; Servius appears
to be derived from the same root as servare, to save or "to keep
safe"; Volusus (also found as Volesus and Volero) seems to come from
valere, "to be strong".
One popular etymology that is certainly not correct belongs to
Spurius, a praenomen that was amongst the most common, and favored by
many leading patrician and plebeian families during the early
Republic. It was later said that it was a contraction of the phrase,
sine pater filius, "son without a father", and thus used for children
born out of wedlock. This belief may have led to the gradual
disappearance of the name during the 1st century AD.
Appius is sometimes said to be of Oscan origin, since it is known
chiefly from the descendants of Appius Claudius, a Sabine from the
town of Cures, who came to Rome in the early years of the Republic,
and was admitted to the Patriciate. His original name was said to be
Attius Clausus, which he then Romanized. However, the praenomen Appius
is known from other Latin sources, and may simply represent the Latin
name closest in sound to Attius.
Aulus, Publius, Spurius, and Tiberius are sometimes attributed to
Etruscan, in which language they are all common, although these names
were also typical of praenomina used in families of indisputably Latin
origin, such as the Postumii or the Cornelii. In this instance, it
cannot be determined with any certainty whether these were Latin names
which were borrowed by the Etruscans, or vice versa. The best case may
be for Tiberius being an Etruscan name, since that praenomen was
always connected with the sacred river on the boundary of Etruria and
Latium, and the Etruscan name for the Tiber was Thebris. However, it
still may be that the Romans knew the river by this name when the
praenomen came into existence.
Many families, particularly amongst the great patrician houses,
limited themselves to a small number of praenomina, probably as a
means of distinguishing themselves from one another and from the
plebeians, who used a wider variety of names. For example, the
Cornelii used Aulus, Gnaeus, Lucius, Marcus, Publius, Servius, and
Tiberius; the Julii limited themselves to Lucius, Gaius, Sextus, and
Vopiscus; the Claudii were fond of Appius, Gaius, and Publius; the
Postumii favored Aulus, Gaius, Lucius, Publius, and Spurius; and so
on. The most prominent plebeian families also tended to limit the
names of which they made regular use, although amongst both social
classes, there must have been exceptions whenever a family had a large
number of sons.
Many families avoided certain names, although the reasons varied.
According to legend, the Junii avoided the names Titus and Tiberius
because they were the names of two sons of Lucius Junius Brutus, the
founder of the Republic, who were executed on the grounds that they
had plotted to restore the king to power. Another legend relates that
Marcus Manlius Capitolinus
Ancus Attius Decius Herius Marius Mettius
Minatus Minius Nerius Novius Numa Numerius
Ovius Paccius Pompo Salvius Seppius Statius
Taurus Trebius Vibius Vettius
The -ius ending found in Latin sources is frequently found as -is or -iis in Oscan inscriptions. Ancus is known from only two sources: Ancus Marcius, the third King of Rome, who was of Sabine ancestry, and Ancus Publicius, an early member of a plebeian gens. Attius may be the Oscan equivalent of the Latin praenomen Appius, since the Sabine Attius Clausus took the name Appius Claudius upon settling at Rome; however, it could also simply have been the closest praenomen in sound. Decius, Pompo (and variations thereof), and Seppius are the Oscan equivalents of the Latin praenomina Decimus, Quintus, and Septimus. A 'P' in Oscan frequently corresponded to a 'Q' in Latin. Nerius, or Nero, a praenomen common to Oscan and Umbrian, was said to mean fortis ac strenuus, that is, "strong" or "vigorous".
Arruns (Ar.) Aule (A.) Cae (C.) Caeles Cneve (Cn.) Karcuna
Lar Larce Laris (Lr.) Larth (La., Lth.) Lucie (L.) Mamarce (Mam.)
Marce (M.) Metie Pavle Puplie (P.) Sethre (Se.) Spurie (S.)
Thefarie Tite (T.) Uchtave Vel (Vl.) Velthur (Vth.) Vipie (V.)
The Romans rendered Lar, Larce, Laris, and Larth all as Lars. Aule, Cae, Cneve, Lucie, Mamarce, Marce, Metie, Pavle, Puplie, Spurie, Tite, Thefarie, Uchtave, and Vipie may be recognized as the Latin praenomina Aulus, Gaius, Gnaeus, Lucius, Mamercus, Marcus, Mettius, Paullus, Publius, Spurius, Titus, Tiberius, Octavius, and Vibius. There is no agreement on whether any of these were borrowed from Etruscan, or whether all were originally Latin. The Etruscans used a number of diminutives for both masculine and feminine names, including the masculine names Arnza (from Arruns), Venel, and Venox (from Vel).
Fasti (F.) Hasti (H.) Larthi Lethi
Ramtha (R.) Ravnthu Tanaquil (Thx.)
Thana (Th.) Titia (T.) Vela
Fasti may be borrowed from the Latin praenomen Fausta. Hasti may be a variant of the same name. An example of a diminutive of a feminine praenomen is Ravntzu (from Ranvthu).
List of Roman praenomina Agnomen Roman naming conventions Cognomen Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
^ a b c d e f g Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd Ed. (1970) ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft ^ a b c d e William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s George Davis Chase, "The Origin of Roman Praenomina", in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. VIII (1897) Full text in Archive.org ^ a b c d e f g h Dictionary of Greek & Roman Biography & Mythology ^ T. R. S. Broughton, Magistrates of the Roman Republic (1952) ^ a b c d e f Mika Kajava (fi), Roman Female Praenomina: Studies in the Nomenclature of Roman Women (1994) ^ a b c d Jacques Heurgon, Daily Life of th