Roman Names


A male citizen of the Roman Empire had at least three names: the praenomen or personal name, only used by family members, the nomen gentilicum or surname to indicate to which gens or family group he belonged and the cognomen or nickname which distinguished between different members of the family who had the same two first names. If the gens was a particularly large one, different branches tended to use an inherited cognomen for identification so their family members might require additional cognomina to identify them. If a man was successful in his career, a cognomen recognising this might be added. This was especially common in military life.

The full name of a male Roman citizen consisted of six elements, the praenomen, the nomen gentilicum, the patronymic or filiation (genitive case of the father's praenomen and filius - son) which of the 35 tribes or voting districts he belonged to (often abbreviated: Fab - Fabia, Cl/Cla - Claudius), the cognomen and lastly the origo - place of origin, or domus - domicile. For the ruling classes, it was not usually necessary to use the full form but for lower ranking people such as soldiers citizenship was very important and the full nomenclature occurs regularly. Until the C1st BC, only the first four were needed for official purposes and the first two for daily use but cognomina became far more common as Roman citizenship spread and many people took similar names.

Under the Republic and the Early Empire the tria nomina, or three names, system was important as it distinguished between the citizen, the non-citizen or peregrinus, and the slave who had only one name. Non-citizens gaining citizenship, such as discharged auxiliary soldiers, usually took the nomen of the current Emperor. By the time of Emperor Caracalla (AD 211-17) citizenship was granted to virtually the whole Empire and the tria nomina lost their distinction. Men of recent foreign origin had increasingly high positions and no longer bothered to take a fully Roman name.


Originally women used the name of the gens preceded by a cognomen They rarely had a praenomen even if they were citizens, just using their nomen and filiation. As this meant that all female members of a family would have the same name, the woman's cognomen was also used familiarly. By the middle of the Republican period, just the name of the gens was used. In early Imperial times, personal names were again in fashion, although they were now placed after the nomen. Later forms included feminine versions of the father's nomen and cognomen, or the father's nomen followed by that of the mother.


Officially, they did not have their own names but used their owner's praenomen with the suffix 'por' from puer, 'boy' (Marcipor, Publipor, Quintipor). Later it was fashionable to give them Greek names, often followed by the genitive form of the owner's name. A freed slave generally took his former master's praenomen and nomen with his own personal name as a cognomen but some chose their own praenomina.


In a two syllable word, the first is stressed. When there are more than two, stress the second to last syllable. If the last two syllables are both vowels, stress the one before them.

Letters Sounds

a as in father  
e as in 'they'

et, est, sed, as bet -em stem

i like 'ee' in 'seen'

id, in like tin

o as in 'go'  
u like 'oo'

us, um, ut as puss, room, put

ae like 'eye'  
au like 'ow'  
oe like 'oy'  
c as in 'car'  
ch as in 'choral'  
g as in 'got'  
gu (after 'n') like 'gw'  
i (as initial letter + vowel) like 'y'  
qu like 'kw'  
s as in goose  
t as in top  
v like 'w'  
x like 'ks'  
j, w, y don't exist  


The following examples of Roman names are those of people living in the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum which were destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.

Amulius Faventinus Tiburs C. Cornelius Rufus C. Egnatius Postumus
C. Norbanus Sorex Caius Cuspius Pansa Cn. Melissaeius Aper
Gneo Poppaeo Abito L. Albucius Celsus L. Caecilius Phoebus
L.Sepunius Sandilianus M. Herennius Epidianus M. Nigilius Vaccula
M. Nonius Balbus M. Obellius Firmus M. Staius Rufus
Titus Suedius Clemens    
A. Cornelius C. Uulius Caecilius Iucundus
Caius Occius Cn. Cornelius Iulia Felix (wife of OQ)
L.. Sextilius Loreius Tibertinus Lucius Caesius
Lucius Niraemius M. Lucretius M. Porcius
Marcus Tullius Numerius Trebius Octavius Quarto
Oppius Campanus P. Aninius Q. Valquo
Quintus Valgus Sacerdus Amandus Vesonius Primus
Vibius Popidius    

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This collection of names compiled by Kate Monk. Copyright January 1997, Kate Monk. Last updated September, 98. Copies may be made for personal use only. home|Onomastikon home