Roman naming conventions

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By the Republican era and throughout the Imperial era, a name in ancient Rome for a male citizen consisted of three parts (tria nomina): praenomen (given name), nomen (or nomen gentile or simply gentilicium, being the name of the gens or clan) and cognomen (name of a family line within the gens). Sometimes a second or third cognomen, called agnomen, was added. The nomen, and later, cognomen were virtually always hereditary. This system was derived from the Etruscan civilization.

Females were officially known by the feminine form of their father's nomen gentile, followed by the genitive case of their father's (husband's if married) cognomen and an indication of order among sisters. By the late Roman Republic, women sometimes also adopted the feminine of their father's cognomen. A woman usually did not have the praenomen and agnomen, unless the parents chose to give her those.



In the early regal period of Rome, it appears that people were at first referred to by one name (e.g., Romulus, Manius). As Rome grew in area and population, a second, family name came into use. By the earliest days of the Republic, every member of a household had at least two names — praenomen, and the genitive form of the pater familias' name, which became a fixed and inherited nomen.

This binomial nomenclature was unique among Indo-European languages of that era. Also, the core part of the name (nomen) was the inherited gens name, not the given name (praenomen). This is probably why so few different praenomina were used.

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