Roman names

Published December 5, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

It’s procrastination time.  (Or rather, it’s time to do something else instead of falling asleep (again) while trying to edit my paper into something approaching a decent state.)

So I’m going to put up this post I’ve been thinking about for maybe half the semester or more, about Roman names.

In ancient Rome, men (especially if they were patricians or upper-level equites) usually had three names.  Some only had two, and some had more than three, but three was pretty typical.  There was the praenomen, the given name, the name of their gens, their family, and the optional third name was the cognomen.  (Women only had one name, usually.  It would be the female version of the gens name.  That’s why Julius Caesar’s daughters and sister were all named Julia.  As were the daughter and grand-daughter of his adopted son Octavian/Augustus.  Because in ancient Rome, women were…actually if I start on that subject, I’ll be going all night and not get to my point.  I’ll leave the subject for some later post.)

A couple of examples:

Gaius Iulius Caesar:  Gaius is the praenomen, Iulius is the name of the family he belonged to, and Caesar is the cognomen of his particular branch of the family.
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus:  Gnaeus is the praenomen, Pompeius is the name of the family, and Magnus (great) is the cognomen he was given in honor of his military victories in Africa.
Publius Vergilius Maro:  Publius is the praenomen, Vergilius is the gens name, and Maro is the cognomen, but don’t ask me what it means or if it was personal or a family thing, ’cause I don’t know.  (At some point, still in antiquity, people started mistaking the gens name’s spelling as Virgilius, which is why it’s fairly standard these days to write Virgil instead of Vergil.)

So you get the picture now, right?

One of the key things here is that you almost never write about a Roman citizen and call him by his praenomen.  You don’t talk about Gaius, you talk about Julius Caesar, or just Caesar.  You don’t talk about Gnaeus, you talk about Pompeius Magnus, or (more likely) Pompey the Great.  (Many (but certainly not all) of the names we use to refer to famous Romans are actually Anglicized versions of their gens name:  Antony from Antonius, Horace from Horatius, Ovid from Ovidius, Livy from Livius, et cetera.)

So let me tell you about Pompey’s son.

His name was Sextus Pompeius Magnus, and he gave himself the additional cognomen Pius, to indicate his devotion to duty and his fallen father.  At best, he’s referred to in histories as Sextus Pompeius.  Most of the time, though, he’s just called Sextus.  Not only in modern histories, mind you, but in ancient histories, too:  Appian and Dio both refer to him simply as “Sextus” most of the time.

I wish I had more time to research so I could find just the right book to cite to establish (for my paper due the 15th) just what a serious insult that is to the poor guy.  In the current rough draft, I say that it’s like treating him as if he were a slave or child, but if I can’t cite a text for that, I’ll have to delete it.  (Which is a pity, because part of my point is about the way Augustan propaganda was encouraging the entire world to disregard the man so everyone would forget how he continually kicked Octavian’s ass.)  I have one general history of Rome in my stack, so I’m hoping the info I need will be in there, but if not… *sigh*

Uh, okay, actually, that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about.  What I really wanted to talk about was the way the praenomen is abbreviated in texts.  Because most books — even modern ones — don’t bother telling you what the abbreviations stand for, and it drives me batty sometimes.

Abbreviations I can recall at this time:

A. = ?
Ap. = Appius?
C. = Gaius
Cn. = Gnaeus
D. = Decimus
L. = Lucius
M. = Marcus
P. = Publius
Q. = Quintus
Sex. = Sextus
Sp. = ?
T. = Titus
Ti. = Tiberius

And I’m probably forgetting a lot of them.

But my real beef here — above and beyond no books being nice and telling us what the praenomen abbreviations stand for (though I could probably find them online if I bothered searching) — is two of them.

Why in the pluperfect blitzball-blasting blazes is the abbreviation for Gaius a C instead of a G?  (Worse still, I’ve seen some translators write Caius and Cnaeus instead of Gaius and Gnaeus.  What’s up with that?  Is it some kind of dialect thing?)

Okay.  Sorry about that.  I just had to get that off my chest.

Now I should get back to work.


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