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#1
Old 01-05-2015, 02:54 AM
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Why so few Roman praenomen?

According to the wiki arictle on praenomen:

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In the early centuries of the Roman Republic, about three dozen praenomina seem to have been in general use at Rome, of which about half were common. This number gradually dwindled to about eighteen praenomina by the 1st century B.C., of which perhaps a dozen were common.
Why were there so few praenomen? What function did they serve if there were so few? I wouldn't think they would be very helpful in identifying individuals if there was such a small pool of names?
#2
Old 01-05-2015, 03:43 AM
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probably because the families who we know about were mostly conservative old families that used the same pool of very traditional names. The names of the commoners are not really recorded but I suspect they used a much larger pool of names and lots of nicknames.
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Old 01-05-2015, 05:00 AM
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Originally Posted by coremelt View Post
probably because the families who we know about were mostly conservative old families that used the same pool of very traditional names. The names of the commoners are not really recorded but I suspect they used a much larger pool of names and lots of nicknames.
The aristocracy also used nicknames (or "cognomen") a lot, since men of the same family were all called the same. So for example, ol' Jules was from the Julia family, his praenomen was Gaius (like 80% of the Julii), but he was called Caesar, meaning "the hairy one".

Where things get a bit annoying is that among the elites, those cognomen *also* got passed down when their bearer distinguished himself. Caesar is one of those, actually, and ironically Jules Cesar balded pretty early in his life. So often cognomens were added on top, to differentiate between folks. For example Scipio (the famous general) was called Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus after he crushed Carthage, to differentiate from the other Publius Cornelius Scipios.

And yes, names could become retardedly long due to tykes being saddled with the cognomens of half of their famous ancestors. One example would be Caligula - his "real" name being Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the first three being inherited from ol' Jules, Augustus from Jules' adopted son and Germanicus from the general who retrieved the eagles lost at Teutoberg Forest. And that's a bit long.
So instead he will be known for all eternity as just Caligula, a childhood nickname he personally loathed.

Last edited by Kobal2; 01-05-2015 at 05:01 AM.
#4
Old 01-05-2015, 10:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Kobal2 View Post
The aristocracy also used nicknames (or "cognomen") a lot, since men of the same family were all called the same. So for example, ol' Jules was from the Julia family, his praenomen was Gaius (like 80% of the Julii), but he was called Caesar, meaning "the hairy one".

Where things get a bit annoying is that among the elites, those cognomen *also* got passed down when their bearer distinguished himself.
They could get pretty silly, too, which must have been interesting a few generations in when you were trying your damnedest to be a serious Roman statesman. See those stately senators over there? There's Nasica ("big nose), Bibulus ("the drunk"), Flaccus ("floppy ears"...or at least he insists that it refers to ears), Brutus ("stupid")... it goes on. And if your great-grandpa was a bean farmer, you're of course stuck being a Cicero ("chick pea") or Lentulus (lentil).

Although, if you're lucky, maybe you get to be a Pulcher ("good looking"), so it's not all bad.

You know that scene from Life of Brian, featuring Biggus Dickus? That's not just random silliness. It really must have been a bit like that at times.

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Originally Posted by Kobal2 View Post
So often cognomens were added on top, to differentiate between folks. For example Scipio (the famous general) was called Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus after he crushed Carthage, to differentiate from the other Publius Cornelius Scipios.
While Scipio Africanus brought glory to the name of Scipio, his ancestor Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio, an admiral in the First Punic War, did not get the family off to a good start. This earlier Scipio completely bungled an important naval engagement, and earned himself the unflattering cognomen Asina - "the ass".

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Originally Posted by Kobal2 View Post
And yes, names could become retardedly long due to tykes being saddled with the cognomens of half of their famous ancestors. One example would be Caligula - his "real" name being Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the first three being inherited from ol' Jules, Augustus from Jules' adopted son and Germanicus from the general who retrieved the eagles lost at Teutoberg Forest. And that's a bit long.
So instead he will be known for all eternity as just Caligula, a childhood nickname he personally loathed.
Meaning "little boots", from the miniature army boots his dad (the aforemention Germanicus) decked him out in when he dragged the poor kid along on military campaigns in Germany. And, yes, you would not want to call him that to his face. You'd call him the Emperor Gaius. Really, it's a rookie mistake for time travelers. It never ends well.

There's a similar thing going on with the later Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus. While referred to as Antoninus until he left the room, we of course know him as Caracalla, meaning "the cloak". Or, as I like to refer to him, "the hoodie".
#5
Old 01-05-2015, 12:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Martian Bigfoot View Post
Meaning "little boots", from the miniature army boots his dad (the aforemention Germanicus) decked him out in when he dragged the poor kid along on military campaigns in Germany. And, yes, you would not want to call him that to his face. You'd call him the Emperor Gaius. Really, it's a rookie mistake for time travelers. It never ends well.
Yup. It's very The Wire, when you think about it - "Caligula ? He like the name ? This kid, whose mama went to the trouble of christening him Gaius Julius Caesar... You know, his dad gets him a tiny uniform complete with sandals and some asshole, instead of giving him a pair of socks, he calls him "Booties". So he's Booties forever. Doesn't seem fair."
#6
Old 01-05-2015, 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Martian Bigfoot View Post
...
You know that scene from Life of Brian, featuring Biggus Dickus?
...
He has a wife, you know...
#7
Old 01-05-2015, 06:51 PM
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'Strabo' [squint] and 'Ahenobarbus' [brass beard] are another two that come to mind. The Romans placed great stress on family and lineage, the hereditary principle coming easily to them (save in kingship)
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