Praenomens in ancient Rome seemed to have been rather limited, especially by the time of the empire. There must've been cases where close friends or cousins and the like would've had the same praenomen. Since close relations adressed each other by their praenomen, how was this handled? Did they then use nicknames instead?

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    Thus the cognomen.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 17:00
  • Since you said in another question you are writing about the 3rd Century, take in consideration that after the Constitutio Antoniniana, many new citizens adopted the same nomen as the Imperial Family (as if they had been "adopted" by them), so most people went just by the cognomen (Source among others: Adrian Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell). They did it so even when voting (while during the late Republic and the Principate they gave even the name of their fathers and grandfathers and sometimes the tribe they belonged to). Commented Feb 17, 2020 at 20:38
  • Basically, they probably used a lot of nicknames. Many nicknames later became cognomens, and we have some recorded examples (but writers whose work survived were usually writing formally, and thus used the formal names.) Female names were (in theory) the feminine form of the Gens name -- hence all the Julias in the Imperial family. But we know of a Julia with a sister Julilla (undoubtedly a use-name) as well as daughters known as Tertia (Number Three Daughter). The one thing you can be sure of is that they had methods to disambiguate.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 0:10
  • This article says that praenomina were so common that most people were called by their praenomina only by family or close friends. For this reason, although they continued to be used, praenomina gradually disappeared from public records during imperial times. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praenomen
    – Lesley
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 16:08

2 Answers 2


The Romans apparently had nicknames (of a sort) known as agnomen: Thus for instance Publius Cornelius Scipio had the agnomen Africanus from his military victories.

  • I am unclear why this was downvoted? Is this not correct?
    – ed.hank
    Commented Mar 20, 2020 at 14:15

Hence the development of cognomen and the tradition of tria nomina, such as for Gaius Julius Caesar. Tradition has it that Caesar was born with a good head of hair, and thus acquired the cognomen Caesar from the Latin "a caesariē", translated "because of the hair" or, more colloquially, "Hairy".

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    But Caesar was the family cognomen for generations before Don Julius's day. Though generations back it doubtless derived from "Hairy" in the way you say.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 0:03
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    @Pieter Geerkens Actually the source of the name Caesar was unknown even in Caesar's era, and many explanations were given. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaius_Julius_Caesar_(name)
    – MAGolding
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 18:55
  • @MAGolding I still hold to the theory that it had something to do with cheese. ;)
    – Spencer
    Commented Mar 19, 2020 at 13:01

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