Category: Roman baby names
By Linda Rosenkrantz
The Roman Empire reigned for more than five hundred years, led by 140 different emperors. In modern times, though, with a couple of exceptions, the names of these august figures were considered far too august and imposing for a twentieth/twenty-first century kid. But the times they are a-changin’ and lately several of these appellations have ridden into the realm of possibility.
Augustus—Augustus, Julius Caesar’s adopted son, who was born Octavian and given the name Augustus by the senate in honor of his great achievements, was the first of the Roman emperors. Augustus is a perfect example of a name that was well used in the 19th century, then deemed too fusty for decades, and now is back at Number 688 and a high 123 on Nameberry, recently modernized by the character nicknamed Gus in The Fault in Our Stars.
Here in our baby name bubble, in case you haven’t noticed, we tend to parse every element of every name for hints of incipient baby name trends. This would include first syllables, middle letters (like the current x), and endings like en and er for boys.
Just recently we’ve been noticing some suddenly increased attention focused on a group of Latinate names starting with the syllable Cas, which seem to be marching ahead in tandem. They all have a soft a sound, eliminating such oldies as Casey— and the Cas element is often pronounced Cash.
Here are the main contenders in this latest of baby name trends:
Cassia—This lovely, elegant name carries the scent of cinnamon, which is what its meaning is in Greek.
Cassian —Has the stylish Roman feel of names like Atticus; associated (not in the best way) with Julius Caesar, and also with abolitionist Cassius Clay, who inspired the birth name of Muhammad Ali. Variation Cassian is an ancient saints’ name primed to burst onto the modern scene ala Asher.
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.