I have just been reading this which is admittedly very old, and there is a statement which has me totally confused.

... the master might disregard the regular form and give the freedman any name he pleased. Thus, when Cicero manumitted his slaves Tiro and Dionysius, he called the former, in strict accord with custom, Mārcus Tullius Tīrō, but to the latter he gave his own praenōmen and the nōmen of his friend Titus Pomponius Atticus, the new name being Mārcus Pompōnius Dionysius.

I do not understand how Cicero could give his freedman the nomen of another. My understanding was that in formal contexts, Tiro, for example, would be M. Tullius Tiro l M - eg Marcus Tullius Tiro, freedman of Marcus - which would indicate a clear identity and affiliation. How would Mārcus Pompōnius Dionysius do this?

(If this would be better suited to the Latin Language forum, please let me know.)

Also posted on Latin Language site - https://latin.stackexchange.com/questions/1985/confusion-re-the-naming-of-roman-freedman

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    The document you linked to does state that "A system so elaborate as that described was almost sure to be misunderstood or mis-applied, and in the later days of the Republic and under the Empire we find all law and order in names disregarded." Oct 29 '16 at 15:13
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    @KillingTime I don't see what's so elaborate about this system. It's quite logical and clear. Nov 1 '16 at 18:36
  • @FelixGoldberg Those were the words of the article's author not mine and I believe that the segment I highlighted was the important part, i.e. by the time of Cicero, the rules were no longer applied. Nov 1 '16 at 20:01
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    @KillingTime I looked it up and he does have a point; but it pertains to other parts of the system and not to the names of freedman which were generated in a very simple way. Nov 2 '16 at 5:15
  • @FelixGoldberg Yes, I thought the same, he is referring to the plethora of names free-born Roman males could end up with. Looking at some of Cicero's letters, I am wondering whether Dionysius once belonged to Pomponius Atticus, hence the conflation of 2 masters' names.
    – TheHonRose
    Nov 2 '16 at 13:12

The Roman tradition of granting the nomen to a newly freed slave was not so much to maintain a subservience over the former slave, but primarily to vouch for the good repute of the person. Like a letter of reference, the new freeman had the blessing of the family, whether or not still a patron.

As to the nomen of an acquaintance, there is no evidence that Pomponeous (the family friend) was unfamiliar with the character of the slave, nor that he objected to vouch for his loyalty to Cicero (the slave owner).

This tradition is explained and analyzed in detail in chapter 4 of Mary Beard's non-fiction SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2005).

  • Thanks, interesting. From one of Cicero's letters to Pomponius [perseus.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/… I suspect Dionysius initially belonged to the latter, and was given to Cicero by his richer friend, so that would make sense.
    – TheHonRose
    Mar 16 '17 at 14:41

"I do not understand how Cicero could give his freedman the nomen of another" - perhaps because Cicero was the master and so could do what he liked?

If Tiro objected to the name Cicero proposed to give him on freeing him from slavery, Cicero might have said "Well how's that for ingratitude! If you are going to be like that when I offer to free you, on second thoughts you can remain a slave!"

Tiro might also have been sufficiently grateful to be freed and glad to have any non-slave name that he may have been happy to adopt whatever name Cicero suggested.

In Roman society even free men tended to be bound to more powerful men by client/ patron relationships which imposed mutual obligations to help each other to the extent that their different status allowed. An ex-slave might still want to remain on good terms with his former master who would become his patron.

Tiro might e.g. want Cicero's recommendation, advice or help in establishing himself in a career, or if Tiro ever needed a good lawyer for any reason Cicero was reputed one of the best.

In return Tiro would show respect for Cicero and help him to the extent he was able.

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    I am not querying Tiro's name - that, as stated in the quote, follows the established norm of the master's praenomen and nomen, with the slave name as a cognomen. But you do not address my point of how Cicero could give another's gens name to his freedman, ie Dionysius.
    – TheHonRose
    Nov 1 '16 at 18:15
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    TheHonRose yes I should have said more explicitly, the question is what if anything enforced Roman naming customs. From a quick look at the Wikipedia article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… I cannot see that they were enforced by law. If it was just custom, then Cicero might get away with ignoring it. (Compare Johnny Cash's song -there is no law in modern America against being a Man Named Sue, it's just rarely done because it's not customary.) Added to which Atticus' family might take it as a compliment or strengthening a useful connection.
    – Timothy
    Nov 2 '16 at 18:20
  • It was pretty "normal" in the US for a freed slave to take the master's last name as well. However, being free men, some refused and took another name (eg: former US presidents, or John Brown's "Brown"). So perhaps the answer to this is in exactly who got to pick the name.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 15 '16 at 19:44

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