Category: naming patterns
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.
If you look at the Top 1000 (actually 2000) baby names on the latest Social Security list, you’ll find a rich mix of names with English and Irish and Latin and African roots, but only the sparsest sprinkling of names from the Scandinavian cultures. Aside from Eric and Erica–the only Norse names that have ever really caught on in this country–you have to look pretty far down the list to find a handful of others–Kai, Axel, Annika, Gunnar, Ingrid, Soren–some of them representing just a few hundred babies.
Which means that there’s a whole constellation of names waiting to be discovered–including Norse mythological names. Granted, not all of them would appeal to the American ear, some of them displaying their ungainly Germanic roots (Wigburg, anyone?), others offering pronunciation challenges (similar to that posed by Matt Lauer’s son’s Dutch name Thijs, pronounced Tice), or containing too many accents, or being just generally awkward, like Ansgar or Ragnild. That said, there are still many gems to be uncovered.
Though there are some names or variations found only in either Norway or Sweden or Denmark (Finland is a whole other story), the majority–many of them, such as Gunnar, coming from ancient Norse legend–can be found throughout Scandinavia. Strict traditional patterns of nomenclature–the first son being named for his paternal grandfather, etc–and laws restricting name choices have kept the supply pretty limited, but of late these have relaxed somewhat, and non-traditional names have been working their way in.
When it comes to the most popular names, there is some overlap among the three countries. In 2006-07, the top names in Sweden were William, Lukas and Elias, and Wilma, Maja and Ella; in Norway they were Jonas, Mathias and Magnus, and Thea, Emma and Julie; while in Denmark the top three were Lucas, Mikkel and Magnus, and Sofie, Laura, and Freja. Here are some other choices to consider; those starred are current favorites.