Your Roman Name: The User's Manual!

[Pars I: Assembly]

Roman names are pretty simple, actually...once you get the hang of 'em. You've got at least two, and more likely three:

  -- Praenomen (given name, for example, Quintus);
  -- Nomen (family name, say, Aurelius);
  -- and Cognomen (street-name/nickname/use-name, like Rufus, for instance).

In the Societas, everyone has at least a praenomen and a nomen.

It's important to realize that a Roman's family name (the one we would think of as a surname) is the one in the middle--not the one at the end, as in modern practice. So Lucius Cornelius Cinna and Titus Cornelius Paullus are related (same nomen, Cornelius); but Lucius Aurelius Paullus is not kinfolk to either of 'em (even though he shares a praenomen with one and a cognomen with the other).

There were only ever a limited selection of praenomina in use at any one time, maybe a few dozen at best, and a particular gens (Roman family) often used only a selection of those available. In the Societas, we are not such sticklers for which praenomina were traditional to which gens; you may chose from any of those available. The most common were:
 -- Appius            -- Kaeso      -- Postumus   -- Spurius
 -- Aulus             -- Lucius     -- Publius    -- Tiberius
 -- Decimus           -- Mamercus   -- Quintus    -- Titus
 -- Gaius (or Caius)  -- Manius     -- Servius    -- Vopiscus
 -- Gnaeus            -- Marcus     -- Sextus
"Appius" was traditionally used only by the Claudii; "Mamercus" by the Aemilius Lepidus clan; and "Vopiscus" by them Iulians. Many others are attested; the Curatores have an extensive list of them. If you don't see your desired praenomen on the short list, ask us to check the long one.

Female Applicants:
For all parts of a Roman name, a woman would drop the -us endings and use -a instead; thus "Gaius Marius" becomes "Gaia Maria". If a desired name-element does not end in -us, check with a Curator; you may be able to leave it just the way it is. ("Falco" and "Valens" are among those that stay the same no matter the wearer's gender.)

Some meanings of praenomina:

Caius/Gaius = 'joyful'
Decimus = 'tenth-born (or tenth-born son?)'
Lucius = 'born in the daylight'
Manius = 'born in the morning'
Marcus, Mamercus = 'dedicated to the God Mars'
Postumus = 'born after the death of his father'
Quintus = 'fifth-born (or fifth son?)'
Servius = 'of servile origins'; time softened this to 'helpful'
Sextus = 'sixth-born (or sixth son?)'
Spurius = 'of questionable parentage'
Tiberius = 'dedicated to the river-spirit of the Tiber'
Vopiscus = 'surviving twin'

...and I suspect Publius means something pretty close to 'friend of the People', as there is a cognomen, "Publicola", that means this exactly.

If you feel an affinity for a particular Roman family, by all means use its nomen. Otherwise, just make sure that it is attested; that some Roman, somewhere, wore that family name at some time in Rome's twelve hundred years of existence as a civilization.

Your cognomen or use-name is the most fun, because it is the most freely-chosen. Just ask yourself what your nickname would be if you could pick your own; find the Latin word for it; make sure the endings are stuck on straight, that it's properly-spelled, and that it sounds nice with the rest of your handle--and then you're done!

In the interests of authenticity and good taste, we ask that you:
 -- do not name yourself after a God.
 -- do not name yourself after a Famous Person.
 -- avoid "joke" names, such as Varius Flavus or Crismus Bonus...or anything from Monty Python!
 -- use nothing that would be embarrassing if translated.
 -- avoid honorifics (names like Victor, Magnus, Maximus, Invictus...); these are awarded by our Curatores as recognition for outstanding achievement.

You may use Medieval Latin. Place-names, such as Britannicus, are okay. You may also use a Latinisation of your modern name, if it's a good Latinisation; check with the Curators' Office.

[Pars II: Operation and Maintenance]

You will, of course, be using your Roman name, and addressing other sodales by theirs, in the Forum and other places where we gather. Which handle should you use, if you're not going to roll out the whole thing every time? As a guideline, if you wanted to address Aldus Marius Peregrinus per an historically-accurate degree of formality, he would be:

 -- Aldus Marius to his family and acquaintances (including business or political);
 -- Marius Peregrinus to most of his friends;
 -- just plain Peregrinus to people who either like him very much (close friends/intimates) or thoroughly despise him (it's considered very casual/familiar);
 -- and Aldus Marius Peregrinus only to his Paterfamilias and the law courts--and then only if he's in big trouble!! <g>

Of course, the Societas is growing its own habits of name use, and we call each other by praenomen+nomen, or by nomen+cognomen, most of the time. When in doubt, ask your fellow Roman what s/he prefers.

When greeting someone directly, the endings change a little bit:
  -- an -us name becomes -e (Aldus --> Alde)
  -- an -ius name becomes -i (Marius --> Mari)
  -- an -a name, and most others, stay the same (Kaeso --> Kaeso, Aelia --> Aelia).

Clear as mud? >({|:-)


In fide,
Aldus Marius Peregrinus: Wanderer, Storyteller and Citizen of Rome
Webmaster, Societas Via Romana
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