Choosing a Roman name
The system of Roman names was unique and distinctive in the ancient world. A foreigner becoming a Roman citizen took a new Roman name as a mark of citizenship. In Nova Roma, too, we ask that you choose a Roman name when you become a citizen.
We encourage you to choose a personal, unique name to identify you, and to express your Roman identity, unique and indivitual to you. Please study this article diligently before you apply for citizenship.
The censores will approve any Roman name that follows the characteristics of classical Roman naming conventions, but we also highly encourage you to follow the ancient practice of the new citizens of the old Roman Empire, who, upon receiving Roman citizenship, latinized their own original foreign name to make it part of their Roman name. Latinizing your native name to make it your cognomen is the most Roman thing to do: please ask help from us and we will latinize your original name.
The name you choose is the name you will be known by in Nova Roma forever, because name change will not be allowed after the 90 days of probationary citizenship period has ended; so choose carefully and seriously. These pages, and other articles on our website, contain information to help you.
If, after reading everything below, you have any more questions, please contact the censores.
Before you start selecting the name
Before you would start thinking about the perfect Roman name for you, take into consideration that Nova Roma pays special attention to real family structure and Roman family system. Individual family branches, called domús, within the gens, are distinguished by the nomen-cognomen combination. If you like a certain nomen-cognomen combination, you should check it in our Album Civium if the same nomen-cognomen combination has already been taken by others. If it's already taken, you will have to request the family's approval that they acknowledge you as their relative. Nova Roman families usually welcome new members into their domus, but you might not want to belong to a virtual cousinhood. Therefore it's advisable to choose a nomen-cognomen combination that has not yet been taken, and to start your own domus. Learn more...
If you have your family members joining Nova Roma, please make sure so that your father, brother or sister take the same Roman family name, the nomen-cognomen combination as you, but your mother takes a different Roman family name than you. If you are a father, your children take the same Roman family name, but if you are a mother, make sure your children take your husband's Roman family name (or if he isn't a citizen, a Roman family name that could be your husband's if he were a citizen).
Another important thing to keep in mind is that Roman wives did not take their husbands' name: so, if you have a married name (a family name or surname adopted upon marriage) you should not take it into account when you search for your Roman name, but you always have to latinize or romanize your maiden name (your name before marriage).
Typical Roman names of the late Republic had three parts (the "tria nomina"). Example: Gaius Iulius Caesar where:
- Gaius is a praenomen ("given name", plural praenomina),
- Iulius is a nomen ("gens or clan name", plural nomina), and
- Caesar is a cognomen ("family name within a gens", plural cognomina).
Some names had no cognomen, but in other cases a second cognomen, (called an agnomen), was added. Female names could follow similar conventions, with a few differences. Additional elements such as tribal affiliation and "filiation" (parentage), were also sometimes used.
- Read more about names in ancient Rome.
Roman family name
While the praenomen can be understood as the equivalent of modern first name, the nomen-cognomen combination represents the Roman surname or family name. This is a bit more complex than our modern surnames, because your Roman family name must have two parts: the nomen and the cognomen. The nomen is the name of your gens, the cognomen differentiates your family's branch or lineage within the gens. This nomen-cognomen combination makes up your Roman family name, or, more correctly, your domus (lineage or branch). Learn more...
List of Standard Praenomina
These are the standard praenomina,
from most common to least common.
A praenomen, the first part of a Roman name, is a personal name which distinguishes an individual from other members of the same family. The praenomen is not normally used on its own: normally only close relatives or very close friends call each other by their praenomen.
- Read more about praenomina in ancient Rome.
There are only a small number of praenomina in ordinary use. These are used by the vast majority of Novi Romani, as they were by the vast majority of ancient Romans. There are also some rarer praenomina, most of them very old ones. If you have some good reason to want a rare praenomen, you may be allowed to have one, but such requests are very rarely granted and must be personally authorized by the Censor. We strongly recommend that you choose one of the standard ones.
Even if it will be an important part of your Romanitas, we shall note that you will almost never be called by your praenomen. It was used only within family, and in society it served to indicate politeness when adding before the rest of the name (similarly to the function of "Mr" and "Mrs" today). What's more, women don't use their praenomen at all, except in extremely formal situations when you must pronounce your entire official name.
When choosing a Roman name you are advised to try to find out whether any particular traditions are followed within the gens you wish to join. This can be done, for example, by contacting existing members and by looking at information about gentes on this website.
A nomen gentilicium indicates which gens a Roman belongs to. A gens is a loose collection of families sharing the same nomen. It is the middle part of the tria nomina, i.e., the three-part Roman name.
- Read more about nomina in ancient Rome.
In ancient times a new citizen would almost always join an existing gens, and similarly in Nova Roma we ask you to choose a nomen from a closed list. Many ancient Roman nomina which are not listed here may also be acceptable. If you want to use a nomen which is not on this list, but it is attested in Roman sources, the censores will consider your request (please read about unhistorical or unattested gentes).
A cognomen is a family name which would be shared by a group of blood relatives within the same gens. Cognomina often, but not always, referred to a person's appearance or other characteristics. It was also common to have a cognomen referring to a place of birth, a job, or some other thing which distinguished the person (usually an ancestor) who first bore that cognomen.
- Read more about cognomina in ancient Rome.
Almost everyone has a cognomen, and it is difficult to distinguish different families within a gens unless cognomina are used. However, strictly speaking, cognomina are not compulsory. If you don't choose one when you first apply for citizenship, you will still be able to add one later.
The Censorial Office will accept only authentic Roman cognomina, which does not mean that you may not use "innovations". New words, that were never used as cognomina in ancient Rome, will also be accepted if they follow the characteristics of the genuine Roman cognomina. What words can be, then, accepted as your cognomen?
- 1. Attested ancient Roman cognomina from the Roman republican period;
- 2. Latin words
- a) describing your geographical or ethnic origin;
- b) describing your occupation;
- c) describing your physical or personality traits: these must be, according to the principles of Roman cognomina, objective rather than subjective, concrete rather than abstract, and neutral or insulting rather than complimentary.
- 3. Latinization of your native (real) name: this happens with the help of the Onomastic Advisory Board of the Censorial Office, consisting of Latinists, and they will give you the etymologically correct and researched latinization of your real name.
Some suggestions before you start thinking on your cognomen:
We discourage taking typical cognomina of very popular and extremely famous Roman historical characters like
- Caesar, Cato, Cicero, Scipio, Sulla etc.
and some other popular nicely ringing names that are very much overused in Roman communities, like
- Agricola, Agrippa, Aquila, Aquilinus, Corvus, Lupus, Marcellus, Metellus, Severus.
You are encouraged to choose a unique name to identify you, but the most Roman thing to do is to incorporate the latinized version of your own name into your new Roman tria nomina: you can ask help from the censors here.
It is important to understand that a cognomen is not a way for you to express your innermost thoughts or aspirations, or to boast about your wonderful qualities. It is just a name.
Attested ancient Roman cognomina
To help you choose a cognomen, there is a list of ancient Roman cognomina below. But this is not a complete list - there were thousands of other cognomina which aren't listed here. If you want to have an ancient Roman cognomen from the republican period which is not on the list below, we will be happy to discuss this with you. A cognomen used in the ancient republic will normally be acceptable except special or honorary cognomina. Discuss your request with the Censorial Office.
Geographical or occupational cognomina
Names referring to whole countries or provinces (e.g. Hispanus, "man from Hispania") are not normally allowed because they are not distinctive enough: if everyone in Hispania were called Hispanus, it would be very confusing! But such names may be appropriate if you live away from your native country (e.g. a citizen from Hispania living in America might be called Hispanus).
If you would like to use a geographical or occupational cognomen, the Censorial Office will work with you to find an appropriate one.
Other Latin words
The Romans often created new cognomina, and so long as it complies with the general characteristics of cognomina noted below, you are also entitled to request a new cognomen which wasn't used or isn't attested in ancient sources.
Many ordinary Latin nouns and adjectives can be used as cognomina. Please make sure the Latin word you choose follows these characteristics of republican cognomina: it must be objective rather than subjective, concrete rather than abstract, and neutral or insulting rather than complimentary. It can be an adjective describing physical or personality traits, occupation, place or ethnic of origin. Nouns may also became cognomen by metonymy, for example, instead of calling a small man Paullus ("Little"), he can take the cognomen Mus ("Mouse"), because a mouse is little. Among nouns, names of animals and plants (Lupus - wolf, Corvus - crow, Cicero - chick pea), objects, especially tools (Scipio - rod, Dolabella - hatchet, Malleolus - hammer) and parts of the body (Ahala - armpit, Barba - beard, Costa - rib) may be acceptable.
If there is some particular Latin word you would like to use as a cognomen, or if you would like a cognomen with a particular meaning, the censores will work with you to find an appropriate name. Write to the Censorial Office and ask their assistance.
Latinizing your own name
Often when a foreigner became a Roman citizen in ancient times he would keep his old name as a cognomen, adjusting it to make it easier for Latin-speakers to say and giving it a Latin ending. This is also a common option in Nova Roma.
If you choose this option, you can use either your first name or your surname, or both. If you use both, they will be put in reverse order. For example, Robert Grant would take the cognomina Grandis Robertus. This is because in a Roman name the second cognomen is more individual than the first.
In some cases it may be appropriate to have more than one cognomen. This is normally only allowed where you use a Latinized form of your own name, but may also be appropriate if you are joining a family which contains a large number of people who all have the same nomen and cognomen. If you think you have a good reason to want more than one cognomen, the censores will discuss it with you.
Under some circumstances Romans were given an additional cognomen, called an agnomen. These were the exception to the general rule that cognomina were not complimentary.
There are several types of agnomen which serve a particular purpose and which are therefore not available for new citizens:
- Adoptive agnomina
- When a Roman citizen is adopted by another, he takes the name of his adoptive father, but adds a special cognomen to indicate his former identity. This cognomen is formed from his old nomen, with the -ius ending replaced with an -ianus ending. For example, when L. Aemilius Paullus was adopted by P. Cornelius Scipio he became P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus.
- Honorific agnomina
- Sometimes very eminent Romans were given honorific cognomina in recognition of their great achievements. These were the exception to the general rule that cognomina were not complimentary. Such honorific cognomina are called agnomina. Obviously a person cannot give himself an agnomen: it is always given by others. Honorific cognomina like Germanicus or Britannicus do not refer to a place of origin but to a military achievement. If someone is called Britannicus it means he won a great victory against the Britons. Names like this are not allowed, for obvious reasons.
- Matronymic agnomina
- In very rare cases a Roman might use an extra cognomen formed from his mother's nomen. The -ia ending was replaced with an -ianus ending or an -inus ending. For example, M. Porcius Cato had one son by his first wife Licinia, and another son by his second wife Salonia. Each son was called M. Porcius Cato. To tell them apart, people called them M. Porcius Cato Licinianus and M. Porcius Cato Salonianus.
|Male Form||Female Form||Status||Meaning||Used especially by|
|Agrippa||Agrippa||OVERUSED||Born feet first||Gens Menenia|
|Ahenobarbus||Ahenobarba||With a red beard||Gens Domitia|
|Albinus||Albina||Pale, white||Gens Postumia|
|Albus||Alba||White or fair-skinned||Gens Postumia|
|Ambustus||Ambusta||SUGGESTED||Burnt, scalded||Gens Fabia|
|Annalis||Annalis||Relating to years||Gens Villia|
|Arvina||Arvina||Fat, lard||Gens Cornelia|
|Asellio||Asellio||Keeper of donkeys||Gens Sempronia|
|Asina||Asina||Female donkey||Gens Cornelia|
|Atellus||Atella||Dark-haired or dark skinned|
|Balbus||Balba||SUGGESTED||Stutterer||Gentes Acilia, Cornelia, Lucilia, Naevia, Octavia|
|Barbatus||Barbata||OVERUSED||Bearded||Gentes Cornelia, Horatia, Quinctia|
|Bestia||Bestia||Like an animal||Gens Calpurnia|
|Bibaculus||Bibacula||SUGGESTED||Drunkard||Gentes Furia, Sextia|
|Bibulus||Bibula||SUGGESTED||Drunkard||Gentes Calpurnia, Publicia|
|Blaesus||Blaesa||SUGGESTED||Someone who mispronounces words, slurs his speech, stammers, or lisps||Gens Sempronia|
|Brutus||Bruta||Stupid, dull-witted||Gens Iunia|
|Bulbus||Bulba||SUGGESTED||Bulb, onion||Gens Atilia|
|Caesar||Caesar||DISCOURAGED||From archaic praenomen Caesar, perhaps meaning "hairy"||Gens Iulia|
|Calidus||Calida||Hot-headed, rash||Gens Coelia|
|Calvinus||Calvina||From cognomen Calvus||Gentes Domitia, Veturia|
|Camillus||Camilla||A child who helps during sacrifices||Gens Furia|
|Canus||Cana||Golden-haired or grey-haired|
|Cato||Cato||DISCOURAGED||Shrewd, prudent||Gentes Hostilia, Porcia|
|Catulus||Catula||Puppy, whelp||Gens Lutatia|
|Cicero||Cicero||DISCOURAGED||Chick pea||Gens Tullia|
|Cicurinus||Cicurina||Mild, gentle||Gens Veturia|
|Cilo||Cilo||SUGGESTED||Large forehead or large lips||Gens Flaminia|
|Cornutus||Cornuta||Horned||Gens Caecilia, Sulpicia|
|Cossus||Cossa||From archaic praenomen Cossus||Gens Cornelia|
|Costa||Costa||A rib||Gens Pedania|
|Crassus||Crassa||OVERUSED||Fat||Gentes Claudia, Licinia, Otacilia, Veturia|
|Crispus||Crispa||Curly-haired||Gentes Sallustia, Vibia|
|Culleo||Culleo||SUGGESTED||Leather sack for carrying liquid||Gens Terentia|
|Curio||Curio||SUGGESTED||Priest of a Curia||Gens Scribonia|
|Cursor||Cursor||Runner, courier||Gens Papiria|
|Curvus||Curva||Stooping, bent||Gens Fulvia|
|Dives||Dives||Rich, wealthy||Gens Licinia|
|Dorsuo||Dorsuo||SUGGESTED||Large back||Gens Fabia|
|Fimbria||Fimbria||Edge of clothing, fringes||Gens Flavia|
|Flaccus||Flacca||SUGGESTED||Floppy ears||Gentes Aviania, Fulvia, Valeria|
|Florus||Flora||Light-coloured or blooming||Gens Aquilia|
|Fullo||Fullo||SUGGESTED||A fuller or launderer||Gens Apustia|
|Fusus||Fusa||From archaic praenomen Fusus||Gens Furia|
|Gemellus||Gemella||A twin||Gentes Servilia, Veturia|
|Glabrio||Glabrio||A relative of Glaber||Gens Acilia|
|Gurges||Gurges||Greedy, prodigal||Gens Fabia|
|Habitus||Habita||In good physical condition||Gens Cluentia|
|Helva||Helva||SUGGESTED||Dun-colored hair||Gens Aebutia|
|Imperiosus||Imperiosa||DISCOURAGED||Domineering, dictatorial||Gens Manlia|
|Iullus||Iulla||From archaic praenomen Iullus||Gens Iulia|
|Labeo||Labeo||Prominent lips||Gentes Antistia, Atinia, Fabia|
|Laenas||Laenas||A woolly cloak||Gens Popillia|
|Lanatus||Lanata||Wearing wool||Gens Menenia|
|Laterensis||Laterensis||Person from the hill-side||Gens Iuventia|
|Lentulus||Lentula||A bit slow||Gens Cornelia|
|Lepidus||Lepida||OVERUSED||Charming, amusing||Gens Aemilia|
|Libo||Libo||SUGGESTED||Gens Marcia, Scribonia|
|Licinus||Licina||SUGGESTED||Spiky- or bristly-haired||Gens Mamilia|
|Longus||Longa||SUGGESTED||Tall||Gentes Sempronia, Sulpicia|
|Lucullus||Luculla||From lucus (grove) or Lucius (praenomen)||Gens Licinia|
|Macula||Macula||SUGGESTED||A spot or blemish|
|Mamercus||Mamerca||From rare praenomen Mamercus||Gens Aemilia|
|Marcellus||Marcella||OVERUSED||From praenomen Marcus||Gens Claudia|
|Merenda||Merenda||SUGGESTED||Light afternoon meal||Gentes Antonia, Cornelia|
|Metellus||Metella||OVERUSED||Army follower||Gens Caecilia|
|Mus||Mus||SUGGESTED||Mouse or rat||Gens Decia|
|Natta||Natta||SUGGESTED||An artisan||Gens Pinaria|
|Nero||Nero||From rare praenomen Nero ("strong")||Gens Claudia|
|Nerva||Nerva||Vigorous||Gens Cocceia, Licinia|
|Niger||Nigra||SUGGESTED||Black-skinned or black-haired|
|Novellus||Novella||New, new-fangled||Gens Gavilia|
|Pacilus||Pacila||SUGGESTED||From archaic praenomen Pacilus||Gens Furia|
|Paetus||Paeta||SUGGESTED||Squinty or blinking||Gens Aelia|
|Papus||Papa||SUGGESTED||From rare praenomen Papus||Gens Aemilia|
|Paterculus||Patercula||SUGGESTED||Little father||Gens Sulpicia|
|Poplicola||Poplicola||Friend of the people||Gens Valeria|
|Postumus||Postuma||Born after the father's death||Gens Curtia|
|Potitus||Potita||Probably derived from an archaic praenomen||Gens Valeria|
|Praeconinus||Praeconina||SUGGESTED||A relative of a herald|
|Praetextatus||Praetextata||Young (wearing the toga praetexta)||Gens Sulpicia|
|Proculus||Procula||From rare praenomen Proculus, perhaps meaning "born during father's absence"||Gens Plautia|
|Publicola||Publicola||Variant of Poplicola||Gens Valeria|
|Pulvillus||Pulvilla||SUGGESTED||Small cushion||Gens Horatia|
|Purpureo||Purpureo||SUGGESTED||Wearing purple or with a purplish complexion|
|Quadratus||Quadrata||Stocky, squarely built|
|Ralla||Ralla||SUGGESTED||A tunic of fine fabric||Gens Marcia|
|Rullus||Rulla||SUGGESTED||Uncultivated, boorish||Gens Servilia|
|Saturninus||Saturnina||Dedicated to Saturnus|
|Scaeva||Scaeva||Left-handed||Gens Iunia, Marcia|
|Scaurus||Scaura||Lame, swollen-ankled||Gentes Aemilia, Aurelia|
|Scipio||Scipio||DISCOURAGED||Rod, staff||Gens Cornelii|
|Silanus||Silana||Nose, water-spout||Gens Iunia|
|Stolo||Stolo||SUGGESTED||Shoot of a plant||Gens Licinia|
|Structus||Structa||Possibly derived from an archaic praenomen||Gens Servilia|
|Sura||Sura||SUGGESTED||Calf of the leg|
|Triarius||Triaria||OVERUSED||A type of soldier||Gens Valeria|
|Trigeminus||Trigemina||A triplet||Gens Curiatia|
|Trio||Trio||SUGGESTED||One of the seven stars of the Plough / Big Dipper||Gens Lucretia|
|Tubero||Tubero||SUGGESTED||Having a tumour or swelling||Gens Aelia, Iulia|
|Tubertus||Tuberta||SUGGESTED||Having a tumour or swelling||Gens Postumia|
|Tubulus||Tubula||SUGGESTED||Little tube||Gens Hostilia|
|Tullus||Tulla||From rare praenomen Tullus||Gens Volcatia|
|Varus||Vara||Bow-legged||Gentes Atilia, Licinia, Quinctilia|
|Vespillo||Vespillo||Person employed to bury people too poor for a funeral||Gens Lucretia|
|Vitulus||Vitula||Calf or young cow||Gentes Mamilia, Pomponia|
|Volusus||Volusa||From rare praenomen Volusus||Gens Valeria|
How to use Roman names
What follows here is short guidance on how to use Roman names. The way you will have to use your Roman name and how others will address you may influence your decision when selecting the perfect Roman name for you; so this is a must to read by anone who is about to chose his Roman name. For more information about the rules of using Roman names, read our longer and more detailed description "Using Roman names".
How many names?
As a general rule, the more formal the context, the more names are used. The use of all three (or more) names is very formal. Calling someone M. Tullius Cicero is roughly equivalent to calling someone Mr Robert James Grant, Esquire. Two names are normally enough to make it clear who you are talking to or about.
Which names you call someone by depends partly on how many names you are using.
Using two names is formal and polite. Calling someone M. Tullius is roughly equivalent to calling someone Robert Grant or Mr Grant. When you mention someone for the first time in a speech or a letter, or when greeting someone, it is common to use two names.
When calling someone by two names, which names you use depends on the status of the person you're naming. If the person is a nobilis, it is proper to call him by his praenomen and cognomen, e.g. P. Scipio. If he is a homo novus, one would normally call him by his praenomen and nomen, e.g. M. Tullius. Most people in Nova Roma are homines novi, so most people are normally called by their praenomen and nomen.
There is a difference in the use of female names: female praenomina are never used. If a woman is named by using two names, these must be the nomen and the cognomen, never the praenomen. In ancient Rome, women didn't have praenomina, or never used it. We know of only a handful of cases when they had, mostly Vestal Virgins, but Nova Roma decided to require the adoption of praenomen for our female citizens in order underline gender equality in our modern Roman commonwealth.
Use of one name is relatively relaxed and informal. If you already in the middle of a conversation with someone, or in the middle of talking about someone, you might well call him by just one name, especially if you know him reasonably well. Calling someone Cicero is roughly equivalent to calling someone Robert. But in formal situations or when first mentioning someone, using only one name may be over-familiar and could be impolite.
When calling someone by only one name, it is normal to use the nomen or cognomen for males, and the nomen for females. A nobilis should always be called by his cognomen. A homo novus is normally called by his nomen unless the frequency of this particular nomen would make it unclear who you are talking about. Where a person has more than one cognomen, you should normally use the first one.
The praenomen is essentially a private name, for use within the family. You should not call a Roman by just his praenomen unless he is your close relative or very, very close friend. Even spouses do not generally call each other by their praenomina alone - they generally use nomina or cognomina.
When you call someone by name, you have to use the vocative case and change the ending of the name to indicate that you are talking to the person, not about him. As a general rule, names ending in -us take an ending -e (e.g. Brutus -> Brute), though names ending in -ius turn to -i (e.g. Tullius -> Tulli). Names ending in -a and names with other endings do not change at all.
You may notice some people using vocative endings when they are talking about someone in the third person (e.g. "I was talking to Brute yesterday"). Don't be confused - you are right, they are wrong.
Addresses other than names
Some modern Latin-speakers use "dominus" and "domina" as equivalents of English "Mr" and "Miss" or "Mrs". This is strongly discouraged. "Dominus" means "lord" or "master", and addressing someone in this way is very servile and grovelling. Expressing respect, honor and formality is possibly by the use of praenomen before the nomen or cognomen, as it has been described above in the section "Two names".
Though Romans do not generally go in for titles in a big way, it is not uncommon to call a consul by the title "Consul", for example, especially when speaking in a political context or discussing business relevant to the office. Likewise one may call one's patron by the title "patronus".
Most of the time people who know each other but are not especially close call each other by name, sometimes with "mi" (or "mea" for addressing a woman). Sometimes they will use brief descriptions, e.g. iuvenis (young man), amicus (friend), senex (old man).
More about using Roma names
- Read more about how to use Roman names and addresses.