AskDefine | Define praenomen

Dictionary Definition

praenomen n : the first name of a citizen of ancient Rome [also: praenomina (pl)]

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Alternative spellings


From Latin praenomen, from prae- + nomen.


  1. An ancient Roman first name.


ancient Roman first name

Related terms



prae- "before" + nomen


praenomen, -minis
  1. An ancient Roman first name.

Related terms

Extensive Definition

In Roman naming conventions, the praenomen (literally forename, plural praenomina) was the only name in which parents had some choice, roughly equivalent to the given name of today. It was a personal appellation given to an infant on their day of lustration. As a rule only the immediate family would call a person by his praenomen. Praenomen is derived from the prefix prae- ("before") and nomen ("name").

Number and frequency of praenomina

Compared to most cultures, Romans used very few given names: the common praenomina were fewer than 40. The seventeen most common male praenomina accounted for 98% of all male Roman names. The most popular – Lucius, Gaius, and Marcus – constituted 59% of the total.
Praenomina are in the o-stem (nominative in -us). Many of the praenomina used by male citizens were abbreviated to one or two characters in writing or inscriptions; the more common abbreviations include: Appius (Ap.), Aulus (A.), Flavius (Fl.), Gaius (C.), Gnaeus (Cn.), Decimus (D.) Lucius (L.), Manius (M'.), Marcus (M.), Publius (P.), Quintus (Q.) Servius (Ser.), Sextus (Sex.), Spurius (Sp.), Titus (T.), Tiberius (Ti.).
For a time in the 3rd century the nomen Aurelius became one of the most popular praenomina after the emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Caracalla) granted universal Roman citizenship to all freeborn subjects throughout the Empire as new citizens adopted the name of their emperor in gratitude.
The names Primus, Secundus, Tertius, Quartus, Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius, Nonius, and Decimus mean, respectively, 'first', 'second', 'third', 'fourth', 'fifth', 'sixth', 'seventh', 'eighth', 'ninth', and 'tenth', and were originally given to first, second, third, etc. sons in birth order. There are, however, abundant examples of this birth-number significance being later lost: Sextus Pompeius, for instance, was not a sixth son. A possible explanation for this is that the numerical praenomen came instead to stand for the number of the month in which the person was born . Another explanation is that eventually parents thought the names were euphonic, and names such as Decimus no longer had to be the tenth child or born in December, and had become common names.

Use of praenomina

Some gentes used only a few praenomina, and some praenomina in turn were used only in one gens. The Cornelii, for example, rarely named their sons anything other than Gnaeus, Lucius, and Publius. This is partly due to the practice of the pater familias naming infants after himself.
Senatorial decrees outlawing certain families from using certain praenomina was a Roman tradition. Livy relates how in the 4th century BCE Marcus Manlius Capitolinus was tried and condemned for treason. It was decreed that no member of the Manlia gens might thereafter bear the praenomen of "Marcus" which none did until the 1st century CE.
Normally only close friends and families would use the praenomen, with outsiders using it for mock-intimacy (sarcasm). The Greeks, until the 1st century, tended to use the praenomen alone when referring to Romans.
In the earliest period, Italic praenomina had female versions, which often end in -a (e.g., Larthia for Larth). But by the time of the historically attested Republic, women no longer normally had praenomina. Exceptions were women in the imperial family, who were often given the name Julia (especially wives of the emperor, but occasionally sisters and mothers as well).


See also

praenomen in Czech: Praenomen
praenomen in German: Römische Vornamen
praenomen in Spanish: Praenomen
praenomen in French: Prénom romain
praenomen in Italian: Praenomina romani
praenomen in Japanese: プラエノーメン
praenomen in Latin: Praenomen
praenomen in Dutch: Praenomen
praenomen in Chinese: 罗马人本名列表
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