Translation:Liber de Praenominibus

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Liber de Praenominibus
by Unknown, translated from Latin by Wikisource
Found in the manuscript Vaticanus Latinus 4929, along with an epitome of Author:Valerius Maximus' Memorable Deeds and Sayings. Latin text available at

1. Varro says that names in Italy were singular and as proof of his opinion he offers the fact that Romulus, Remus, and Faustulus had no first name (praenomen) or third name (cognomen). Those who disagree with him say that their mother was called Rhea Silvia, their grandfather Silvius Numitor, his brother Amulius Silvius, and earlier kings of the Albans were Capetus Silvius and Agrippa Silvius, while later leaders were called Mettius Fufetus and Tutor Cloelius. As if these were not enough, they go on to the Sabines: Titus Tatius, Numa Pompilius and his father Pompius Pompilius, and they list the leaders of this region: Pustulanus Lauranus, Volesus Valensius, Mettus Curtius, Alius Fumusilleaticus. Among the Etruscans, they recall Lars Porsinna; from the Aequi, Septimus Modius (their first king) and Fertor Resius who established the fetial law. Thus, Varro's claim is undermined. 2. But it must be considered very likely that the Romans took the custom of having multiple names from the Albans and the Sabines, since they originated from those peoples.

But every name which has been chosen to define any one of us (Romans) has the same meaning for the person who is to be signified by it. That which is called a proper [name] is different from this, because the family is known by it, for which reason it is also known as a family name (gentilicum). Other names are distinct due to their order, since one that comes first is a praenomen, one placed after is a cognomen, and one placed at the end is an agnomen. The order of these that I have presented was not always followed, for I note in the lists of consuls that the use of praenomina and cognomina was confused - they include Postumus Cominius Auruncum, Postumius Aebutius Helva, Vopiscus Julius, Opiter Verginius Tricostus and Paulus Fabius Maximus. In fact, some cognomina became proper names, like Caepio, which took the place of a proper name in the case of Brutus.

3. Varro thinks that there were 1000 family names (gentilicia nomina) and about 30 praenomina. Quintus Scaevola recounts that it was customary that first names (praenomina) were not given to boys before they put on the toga virilis, nor by girls before they were married. Some names that were once praenomina, are now cognomina, as in the case of Postumus Agrippa Proculus Caesar.

4. Opiter was the name for one who was born when his father was dead, but his grandfather was still alive,[1] Vopiscus for someone who was born safely, despite having been conceived in his mother's womb with a twin, who was then miscarried. Hostus was the praenomen, who was born away from home in the house of a host - as in the case of (Hostus) Lucretius Tricipitinus the colleague of Lucius Sergius.[2] Volero turned into a praenomen, for children who were seen to be born to willing parents, in which sense Publilius Philo used it. The praenomen 'Lar' was taken from the Lares, but is believed to be Etruscan - Lars Herminius was consul with Titus Verginius Tricostus[3] The praenomen Statius originates from stability (stabilitas), Faustus from favour (favor). Tullus was turned into a praenomen thanks to it being almost 'one who is to be reared' (tollendus), with the letters o and u switched. Someone who was born during the sowing season was called Sertor. The praenomen Ancus was taken from the Sabines, Varro thinks. Valerius Antias wrote that someone who had a bad elbow was named with the Greek word ἀγκών.[4]

5. Children began to be named Lucius, because they were born right at first light,[5] (but some think it is from the Etruscan lucumones),[6] Manius, if they were born in the morning or because they were good as it were, since the ancients called a hand (manus) a good thing. Cnaeus was named from the mark of a wart (naevus). This single praenomen has various spellings - some write Naeus, others Gnaeus, and others Cnaeus. Those who use the letter G in this praenomen seem to follow the the ancient style, which used this letter a lot - they once said frugmentum for what is now pronounced frumentum (grain), and forgis rather than fortis (strong), and gnatura rather than natura (nature). Therefore also one who is accustomed to be born in bodies, was called Gnaevus.[7] Those who use CN seem to be seduced by the shortening of the consonant blend, and those who use Naeus by ease of pronunciation. It is judged that children called Gaius were named for the joy (gaudium) of their parents; Aulus because they were born to parents who were longing (auentes) for children; Marcius because they were born in the month of March (Martius); Publius for those who became orphans (pupilli) before they took praenomina - but others say it is from 'genitals' (pubes).

6. Children began to be called Tiberius because they were born by the River Tiber. Titus derived from the Sabine name Titus, Appius from Attus, which is a praenomen of the same region. Children were called Caeso because they had been cut out of mothers who had died,[8] Servius when one survived (servatus) in the womb after his mother died, and Spurius when it was uncertain who their father was, as if they were σποράδιοι.[9] Only the patrician family of the Fabii used Numerius, because when three hundred and six of them were killed at the Cremera river,[10] only one man of this stock survived, who took a daughter of Numerius Otacilius Maleuentanus in marriage as a wife on condition that when he had his first child, he would give him the praenomen of his maternal grandfather, which he did.

7. Among the ancient women, praenomina were in regular use, such as Rutilia, Caesellia, Rodacilla, Murrula, and Burra from their appearance.[11] Some praenomina were taken from the men's names, like Gaia, Lucia, Publia, and Numeria. Moreover, Gaia is famous for one use above all, since they say that Gaia Caecilia, the wife of Tarquinius Priscus was the best wool-worker and as a result the custom was instituted that when young brides were asked what they were called outside their husband's door, they would say that they were Gaia.

Gaius Titus Probus completed this epitome of the various events and exemplars of the Romans. I happily emended the copy at Ravenna - Rusticius Helpidius Domnulus.


  1. Deriving it from Ob patrem, "in exchange for the father".
  2. The consuls of 429 BC
  3. In 448 BC
  4. ankon (elbow).
  5. i.e. at dawn
  6. An Etruscan word for king.
  7. Whatever this means... qui in corporibus gigni solet gnaeuus adpellabatur
  8. Deriving it from caesum, "a thing that has been cut"
  9. sporadioi - Greek for 'scattered'.
  10. w:Battle of the Cremera, 477 BC
  11. The names mean respectively: Orange-Red, Darklet, Brasslet, Little Myrrh, Red.