If you notice one major thing about Ancient-(or Pre-Modern) History, the most well known and studied figures only have one name-(i.e. Homer, Aristotle, Virgil, Ovid, etc.). When was the last name introduced into World History? If I was to submit an educated guess, it probably began around the early years of the Roman Empire with the various Caesars, as well as with the Roman imperial census. (Again, this is just an educated guess).

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    Not sure that those are particularly good examples. Homer remains the subject of debate; Virgil = "Publius Vergilius Maro"; Ovid = "Publius Ovidius Naso" Oct 7, 2017 at 23:49
  • Well, I think you have answered my question in that the earliest known last names probably dates back to Roman times. Admittedly, I did not know about Virgil or Ovid's full name-(though of course there is Marc Antony & the Emperor Marcus Aurelius).
    – user26763
    Oct 8, 2017 at 1:18
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    Romans didn't have "last names", they had a different naming system altogether. For history, it's not really a matter of "when", it's a matter of 1) different cultures having different systems; and 2) other cultures mangling names to fit their system. E.g. to the Romans, the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca was just known as Hannibal; the West knows the philosopher K’ung-fu-tzu as Confucius...
    – jamesqf
    Oct 8, 2017 at 3:41
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    The Roman statesman, lawyer and writer we generally refer to as Cicero was called Tully - for Tullius in much Renaissance literature.
    – TheHonRose
    Oct 8, 2017 at 14:43
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    Several of the Egyptian 8th Dynasty pharaohs are now referred to with two names, especially those called Neferkare who need to be distinguished. That would be over 4000 years ago. The names come from the Abydos King List several hundred years later
    – Henry
    Oct 9, 2017 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


First: Since the OP made the question based on roman and greek names, I'll ignore other countries in this answer.

Second: Let us make a difference between Greece and Rome. Usually in Greece people used only one name, while in Rome they used three (name, gens name and family name). Hence a Greek name would be like Nike, Plato, Aristotle, etc. Once in a while a person with a common name would be differenced by including its origin, best known example is Thales of Miletus. But Rome used longer name (for males usually), like Publius Cornelius Scipio, Quintus Fabius Maximus or Gaius Julius Caesar.

Third: Usually people uses the shortest name available, only including a family name, origin or other reference to make a distinction between people who share the same name. That's why some famous people might own a name shared by many; like Caesar or Alexander the great.
Even nowadays a person might own a name; like Warhol, Lennon or Shaquille, even if that name is common.

Summary: Last name has not been introducing in world history. Is basically a cultural use or a need whenever a name is shared by many.

  • Though after the "Year of the Four Emperors", Caesar changed from being a name to a title. Which went on to become e.g. German Kaiser and Russian Tsar.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 27, 2018 at 23:42
  • Indeed @jamesqf, even for a while Caesar was the title of the next emperor in the line.
    – Santiago
    Feb 28, 2018 at 12:16

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