Why did Romans have three names ? – History, Politics & Society


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Because it was the best way they had to identify what family to
which someone belonged. It was actually somewhat similar to what we
do today.

Here’s an example: Gaius Julius Caesar

Let’s break it down.

Gaius: The first name was called the Praenomen, and it was the
personal name given to the individual by his family. Everyone close
to him would have called him Gaius, not Julius. However, they
weren’t so creative with them, and there were only a small number
of Praenomens that were used. So Gaius was actually very common.

Julius: The second name was called the Nomen and it was the same as
his clan. It’s what we could consider a surname now. Family names
were usually feminine, and then changed to a Masculine form as
necessary. In this case, the progenitor female in Caesar’s family
was a woman named Julia. We use them primarily as given names now.
Some of the more well-known were Julius, Cornelius, Marius, and

Caesar: The final part of the name was the cognomen, which was
originally a nickname or personal title added for the purpose of
distinguishing one member of a lineage from another (since names
were often passed from father to son). As an example, the last king
of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius gave himself the cognomen “Superbus”
which is the same as “The Great” in English. Later, cognomens
became part of the names of wealthy or large families to help
further distinguish them. IN that sense, they were hereditary. So
“Caesar” would be passed on and a 4th name (the Agnomen) added for
a nickname or title (like in the case of Publius Cornelius Scipio

It should be noted that some important people only had two name,
which denotes both humility and less than noble beginnings. Gaius
Marius, the only man to be elected Consul 7 times, was one such
man. he had only two names, which was unusual at the time. HIs
family was newly noble, though, so they didn’t have the need to the
distinction of a cognomen. Despite that, he was given the title
“Pater Patria”, Father of the Country, and was noted as the “third
founder of Rome” because of his brilliant military strategies.

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