Roman naming conventions for females

Roman naming conventions for females

The first names, or "praenomen", of Roman females changed dramatically from the earliest days of Rome to the High Empire and then the late Empire. Females were officially known by the feminine form of their father's "nomen gentile", followed by the genitive case of their father's "cognomen" (husband's if married), and an indication of order among sisters. By the late Roman Republic, women also adopted the feminine of their father's "cognomen". Many Roman female names end in the letters "-a", signifying that they're feminine, and hinting at the appropriate declension to use when addressing them.

Naming conventions

Early and Middle Republican naming conventions

Initially, Roman women were known solely by their family name, e.g. a woman belonging to the gens Aemilia would be called Aemilia. If there were many daughters, she would be given a cognomen, such as Tertia (third) for Aemilia Tertia, to indicate her birth order.

The names thus generally reflected the family name or "nomen" of the father, or head of the family. For example, if a man's family name ("nomen") was Cornelius, then his daughter would be named Cornelia. If the man's family name was Sempronius, the daughter would be named Sempronia.

Other examples include
* Laelia Major and Laelia Minor, daughters of Gaius Laelius Sapiens

Late republican naming conventions

By the Late Republic, women began to use the feminine of their father's "cognomen", such as Cornelia Sulla or Pompeia Magna or Cornelia Metella (properly Caecilia Metella).

Other examples include
* Licinia Crassa Major and Licinia Crassa Minor (daughters of Lucius Licinius Crassus)
* Sempronia Tuditani, daughter of a Sempronius Tuditanus

High imperial naming conventions

Later, in the era of Augustus and thereafter, Roman women used more varied first names and sometimes two first names. The naming pattern became more erratic.
# A woman could be named for her paternal grandmother, e.g. Livilla for her grandmother Livia.
# A combination of her family name and the name of a mother or grandmother, e.g. Plautia Urganalilla (wife of Claudius) named for her father's family and her paternal grandmother.
# A woman could be also named for her father's family and a place of origin (somewhat like men, but without a unique praenomen).
# A woman could be named for other relatives e.g. Drusilla (sister of Claudius) named for her paternal grandfather Drusus, itself a cognomen.

Some empresses were given the "praenomen" of Julia, even if they are unrelated to the "gens" Julii. [ [ The Dictionary Of Roman Coins] ] Some were awarded with the "agnomen" of "Augusta" ("Majestic"), a parallel of their husbands' ("Augustus").

Further discussion

Early to Middle Republic

Since Roman families in the Early and Middle Republic usually had many children, the sons were also given a personal name or "praenomen". The daughters, all named for the gens or family, were only distinguished by their birth order. For example, in a family with just two surviving daughters, the elder would be called Major and the younger Minor, e.g. Cornelia Africana Major and Cornelia Africana Minor. Families with more daughters such as a patrician Claudius with five daughters would have daughters named Claudia Prima, Claudia Secunda, Claudia Tertia, Claudia Quarta, and Claudia Quinta.

It is not known if daughters were renamed when older sisters died, but Aemilia Tertia, wife of Scipio Africanus, was usually known as Aemilia Paulla to later Romans. This might reflect her greater prominence, as it did for her younger daughter who was usually known as Cornelia Africana, not Cornelia Africana Minor (her older sister lived long enough to have a surviving son). It might also reflect that at some point, she and her daughter became the only surviving daughter of their fathers.

Polybius, writing in the last years of the Middle Republic, refers to Aemilia Tertia simply as "Aemilia" making her identity clear by context. Livy, writing of various women in the Middle Republic, also refers to them simply by the feminine versions of their father's gentilical names ("nomen gentile") e.g. Volumnia (mother of Coriolanus), the maiden Virginia, the betrayed wife Lucretia for the Early Republic; with almost no changes in the Middle Republic for the poisoners Cornelia, Licinia, Mucia, and Publilia. None are identified by their birth order. A very few women are however identified by their birth order, notably Claudia Quinta, who publicly affirms her chastity in 203 BC.

Roman female names in Imperial Rome

After the end of the Republic, women's names gradually began to change. This is best seen in the Imperial family.

While Augustus's wives were always known by their father's family ("gens") e.g. Claudia Pulchra, Scribonia, and Livia and Tiberius's wives were Vipsania and Julia for their fathers' less-known gentilical names, by the third generation in the Imperial family, naming patterns had changed. Julia's daughters by her second husband Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa were Julia the Younger and Agrippina, not Vipsania Tertia and Vipsania Quarta. Her granddaughters were Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla, etc, and not named for their father's adoptive family, Julius. Likewise, in the family of Octavia and Mark Antony, the naming patterns for their daughters (and Octavia's daughters by her first husband) are conventional, but that for the granddaughter Livilla (daughter of Drusus, a Claudian), is not.

In later generations, two names were adopted by females; thus Claudius's daughters were not Claudia Major and Claudia Minor, but Claudia Antonia and Claudia Octavia. Among the elite, names such as Pomponia Graecina became common. In still later generations, women's names bore little or no resemblance to their father's families. For example, in the Flavian dynasty, Titus's daughter was not Flavia. In the Severan dynasty, most women bore the first name of Julia (not the family's gentilical name), but the second name was different. In the Theodosian dynasty, the daughter of Theodosius I was not Theodosia but Galla Placidia named partly for her mother.

Livy, Suetonius, and Tacitus, as well as other classical historians Valerius Maximus, Plutarch, Aulus Gellius all illustrate this growing complexity in Roman female names. They write mostly of Imperial Roman women, but the names of some notable patricians (noblewomen) and a few freedwomen are also given.

The reason for female names

It has been argued that Roman girls were considered property, and that they were named after the patriarch to show ownership. However, it has been shown that Roman baby girls were not named after the patriarch, but rather after the family. No Early-to-Middle Roman female infant was named a variant of her father's or paterfamilias's "praenomen" and "nomen"; at least, no tomb inscriptions, or other documentation has been found to this effect.

Earlier (Republican) Roman female names tended to be strictly gentilical, with some allowable variety in cognomens in the Late Republic. In imperial Rome, women acquired both greater legal rights as well as more individuality in their names, commensurate with their growing legal and social independence. Early Roman women could not divorce their husbands; later Roman women could arrange a divorce from an unsatisfactory husband, and furthermore, had some say in who they married. Early Roman women had limited control over their own property (none if they were unmarried and living under their paterfamilias's roof, or if they were married). Later Roman women acquired some rights over their own property and incomes. Growing legal rights and de facto social independence appeared to go hand in hand with varied first names. It is also no coincidence that most Roman women known to us today (or who appear in contemporary or classical histories) come from the Imperial period.

By the late Empire, women were frequently named for their mothers or other female relatives, who in turn were often named for female (or sometimes male) Christian saints. Thus the empress Galla Placidia's name shows only her mother's name, not her father's. Other examples: Arria was a daughter of Thrasea Paetus and his wife Arria [Tac. Ann. 16, 34; Pliny Ep. 3, 6, 10; 7, 19, 3] ; and possibly Considia, daughter of Servilius Nonianus [Pliny NH 24, 43 and Syme; 1964a:412f] .

Empresses bearing pagan names--e.g. Aelia Licinia Eudocia formerly "Athenais"--were renamed to have more Christian names, sometimes for an earlier empress. A few empresses such as Theodora, wife of Justinian) were also allegedly renamed. Late Byzantine empresses bore names derived via Latin from Greek:

* Anna (meaning "grace/charm" or "mercy")
* Agnes ("chaste" or "sacred"), a name of one of the earliest Christian saints
* Irene ("peace"),
* Eudokia/Eudoxia ("good fame")
* Euphrosyne ("joy")
* Theodora ("god's gift")
* Zoe ("life") Most of these names showed Greek influences, while a few were clearly the names of Christian female saints.


ee also

* Women in Rome
* Roman naming conventions

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