Roman Names

A Roman family would name their sons on the ninth day after birth, their daughters on the eight day.

Each male citizen in the Empire was entitled to the trinomina, which consisted of his praenomen, his nomen or genticulum and his cognomen.

The nomen was the important part of a man’s name as this was his family’s name and indicated their clan origin. In Britain, the nomen was often taken from the emperor who had first awarded the family citizenship, hence the number of Claudii, Aurelii etc to be found on Romano-British inscriptions.

A man’s cognomen distinguished him from the rest of his family and was often derived from his interests or appearance. Cognomina might also be acquired through life if one performed outstanding deeds or stood out in some other way.

The praenomen was a boy’s forename and would be chosen by his parents from an approved list, of which only about 17 names were regularly used, eg Gaius, Quintus, etc. This part of a boy’s name was not officially recognized until he reached adulthood at 13 or 14.

Most women did not have a praenomen. During the Republic most women only had one name, their family’s nomen, and were otherwise identified by ‘elder’ or ‘younger’ or by numbers, ‘prima’ ‘secunda’, etc. By the time Britain had become Roman province Roman women had two names, one based on her family’s nomen, the other based on her father’s praenomen. On marriage women might take their husband’s name in the genitive but rarely did so. Fabius Honoratus, tribune of the 1st Cohort of Vangiones, his wife Aurelia Eglectiane and their daughter Fabia Honorata were a typical military family on Hadrian’s Wall (RIB 1482).

People from one of the Cetic provinces usually only had one name, which was specific to them. At Chesters a German soldier called Lurio had a sister called Ursa, a wife called Julia and a son called Canio (RIB 1483). Celtic names can often be translated: for example, ‘Boudica’ meant ‘Victory’, ‘Grata’ meant ‘welcome’.
People could also have nicknames. At Corbridge a tombstone records the death of   ‘Ertola, properly called Vellibia’ (RIB 1181). Slaves might be given descriptive names; for example, ‘Hardalio’ can be translated as ‘busybody’ although less polite translations are known (RIB     1436). There was also a fashion for giving slaves Greek names. On being freed a slave might add his previous owner’s name to his own.