Discussion of the Roman Name
Forms & their Survival
by Michael Veprauskas
W H A T '
S I N A
N A M E
Names Live On
Among the institutions
that developed during the Roman Republic and later
Empire was that of a formalized system for naming its
citizens. A male Roman citizen had at least 3 name
parts, and could have as many as 6.
- (pre-name) a given or personal name that was used
only by family members. Of the 20 or so male
praenomens, only a dozen were in common use. When
written, a praenomen was often abbreviated, e.g.: L. =
Lucius, Q. = Quintus, M. = Marcus.
(name) the tribal or clan name. Old Patrician families
had a select group of nomens.
- (surname) originally a nickname, in time they became
family names used to distinguish different family
groups within a given nomen. An individual could also
have more than one nomen, to distinguish between
different members of the immediate family; e.g. father
and son. Cognomens became especially important as
Roman citizenship spread, and many people acquired
- an additional cognomen or nickname bestowed during
life. Often acquired during a successful military
career, and frequently representing a particular
country or region; e.g. Africanus, Britannicus. The
Celtic usage of epithets served a similar function.
Cornelius Scipio Africanus - often written as P.
Cornelius Scipio Africanus.
- Publius or P.
- Cornelius, a tribal name that indicates patrician
- Africanus, from Africa. This commemorates Scipio's
victory over Hannibal and conquest of Carthage during
the Second Punic War.
Artorius, the latin
form of Arthur, is also a nomen, e.g.: L. (Lucius)
Artorius Castus. He was the 2nd century
Dalmatian commander who was stationed in Britain and
commanded auxiliary troops.
- Lucius (L.)
St. Ambrose's father
was Aurelius Ambrosius, he was prefect of Gallia and a
patrician of the old Roman senatorial class. The
cognomen Ambrosius was a family name that was also
given to his son, St. Ambrosius. A leading opponent of
St. Ambrose in the roman senate, a pagan and also a
relative, was one Quintus Aurelius Symmachus. It can
be seen that they had the same nomen
"Aurelius" indicating descent from the same
tribe, but different family names or cognomens.
How about our friend Ambrosius?
itself is a cognomen that became a family name, i.e.
passed on from father to son. Aurelianus is also a
cognomen that would be used to distinguish between
Ambrosii in the same family. Aurelius can also be used
as a cognomen, but it is also a nomen used by old
patrician families of the senatorial class. Hence
Aurelius Ambrosius was of patrician descent, qualified
for senatorial status, and of the family Ambrosius.
Common praenomens used with the nomen Aurelius
include: Marcus (M.), Quintus (Q.), Julius (J.),
Lucius (L.), Titus (T.) Perhaps Ambrosius the Elders'
full name was something like: M. Aurelius Ambrosius.
The initial letter M. for Marcus (or whatever it may
have been) would soon have been forgotten and dropped,
leaving only Aurelius Ambrosius.
The British King Aurelius
Caninus, mentioned by Gildas,
could conceivably be related to Aurelius Ambrosius,
with a new family name started.
The son of M. Aurelius
Ambrosius: M. Aurelius Ambrosius Aurelianus would have
been distinguished from his father by the additional
cognomen Aurelianus. After a successful career as
leader of the British counter offensive against the
saxons, and as High-King, he may have acquired an
honorific name as well: M. Aurelius Ambrosius
Aurelianus Saxonicus or M. Aurelius Ambrosius
Aurelianus Britannicus. Or simply Ambrosius for short!