Most Roman names have three parts (tria nomina):
- a praenomen ("given name", plural praenomina),
- a nomen ("gens name", plural nomina), and
- a cognomen (plural cognomina).
A few have no cognomen. Sometimes a second cognomen (called an agnomen) is added.
For female names, the convention is similar, with a few differences.
Additional elements such as agnomen and filiation are optional.
Elements of a name
(Praenomen, plural: praenomina) This form of "first" name was relatively unimportant, and was rarely used on its own outside of the family. There are relatively few praenomina that were commonly used in the Republican era of Rome. Read more about praenomina.
(Nomen plural: nomina) The second name or nomen is the name of the gens (clan) in masculine form; the Latin word "gens" is feminine, so the name appears as feminine in our lists. Read more about nomina.
(Cognomen, plural: cognomina) The third name or cognomen started to be a nickname or personal name that distinguished individuals within the same gens (the cognomen does not appear in official documents until around 100 BCE). During the Roman Republic, the cognomen is inherited from father to son, serving to distinguish a family within a gens. Often the cognomen was chosen based on some physical or personality trait. Read more about cognomina.
Originally, the praenomen and nomen constituted a Roman's full name and were followed by the so-called filiation (a patronymic or indication of paternity). The filiation (patronymicus) consisted of the Latin word for "son," filius (abbreviated by the letter f.), preceded by the abbreviation of the father's praenomen, which was understood in the genitive case. Hence, a Roman might have been known as
M. Antonius M. f. (=Marci filius), that is, Marcus Antonius, the son of Marcus.
Additionally it could also indicate the grandfather with the word "grandson," nepos (abbreviated by the letter n.).
Marcus Aurelius Marci f. Quinti n. tribu Galeria Antoninus Pius.
- praenomen: Marcus
- nomen: Aurelius (he belongs to gens Aurelia, the Aurelii in plural)
- patronymicus: Marci f. (son of Marcus)
- grandparent: Quinti n. (grandson of Quintus)
- tribe: tribu Galeria (a tribe from the region of Caesaraugusta in Hispania)
- cognomen: Antoninus (family of the Antonini)
- agnomen: Pius (probably because of his piety...rarely inherited))
In everyday use, people are referred to by either a combination of the praenomen and nomen, or even more usually by just their cognomen.
- "Marcus Livius Drusus" would either be just "Drusus" or "Marcus Livius."
- "Iulia Marciana" would be just "Iulia." (See using Roman names for more on this topic.)