Category: ancient Roman names
Ancient Roman names are being rediscovered in the modern world in a major way. Rarely does a whole class of names from a place or historical period undergo this widespread a revival, but several forces are at work that are making us take a fresh look at ancient Roman names.
The first Big Read, which featured “To Kill A Mockingbird” and its hero Atticus Finch brought that name to contemporary consciousness. Then there was the HBO series Rome. But “The Hunger Games” which features ancient Roman names for most of its male characters has popularized the genre like nothing else.
Of course, many ancient Roman nameshave survived and thrived in modern times, including some of our picks. And then there are others that have been slumbering for centuries but are reawakening now. Here, our favorites from this very appealing group.
Back in the days when being an octomom –as in mother of eight– was no rarity, babies were often given a name that indicated their place in the birth order. This began in the Roman Era, and was revived by the Victorians.
Now that ancient names (eg Atticus, Maximus), are coming back– partly influenced by the Septimus-type names heard in Harry Potter—and starting to be seen as fresh rather than fusty, I thought we’d take a look at some of those long dormant number names—both Latin and others.
Prima — Perfectly plausible–and ego-boosting– name for a first girl, though rarely heard in this country other than as a surname (as in Louis P.) or terms like prima ballerina. Connie Sellecca and John Tesh used it for their now grown daughter, named after her maternal grandfather.
Primo —Historically, Primo has been among the most frequently used of the birth-order names, with its jaunty ‘o’ ending and Italianate flavor. It was the name of a Spanish saint, and author Primo Levi was a famous bearer.
Primus —The original form of the prime names; more appropriate to a Hybrid model car than a modern baby.
Una —Though this is an Irish name (Oonagh/Oona) with a different meaning, Una can also be thought of as a number one name and could be used for a first child. In literature, Una personifies the singleness of religion and the quintessence of truth and beauty in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and it was a favorite character name of Rudyard Kipling.
Modern Western civilization owes much to the legacy of ancient Rome, not the least of its many influences being found in our names.
In the ancient Roman system of naming, each citizen belonged to an ancestral group called a “gens,” and took his name from his particular gens. The traditional form of the Roman name existed in three parts: Roman males would be given a first name at birth, called a “praenomen,” followed by his gens name, and then a last name called a “cognomen” that identified the branch of the gens to which he belonged.
In the time of Rome’s early to middle era, there wasn’t much variety in women’s names. In fact, they generally were given the gens name of their father (in the feminine form), and daughters within the same family were usually distinguished from their sisters by an additional name indicating their position in the birth order. So the first born would be Prima, the second Secunda, and the third Tertia, etcetera.
Despite the seeming lack of concern of the Romans of this period for bestowing unique names on their girls, we nevertheless have a number of lovely Roman feminine names to consider. Those listed below are all feminine forms of the gens names that were in use by notable Roman families in the time of Rome’s Republic (509 BCE to 31 BCE), many of which are still heard today. Those that are less familiar may make especially interesting choices for modern-day girls’ names.