What are some Roman last names?

What are some Roman last names?

Caesar (most famously Gaius Iulius Caesar), Cicero (most famously Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great orator), Scipio (most famously Publius Cornelius Scipio, called Africanus from his victory over the North African city of Carthage).

The middle name typically refered to the gens (clan; a larger group to which a family belonged) and was called the “nomen gentile.” Thus Julius Caesar belonged to the “gens Iulia”, & Cicero belonged to the “gens Tullia.”

There were only a few first names common among the Roman upper classes, such as Gaius, Marcus, & Publius, which often makes distinguishing among them confusing.

What are some Roman last names?

Roman Last Names
What are some Roman last names?

Q: Did Ancient Romans have last names?

Yes. Romans of lower social rank had two names, the praenomen and cognomen. They functioned the same as a modern first and last name.

Patricians had a third name called the nomen gentile and placed in the middle.

It was a clan name and denoted membership in a broader group of families that traced their lineage back to very early Rome.

The guy we call Julius Caesar was actually Gaius Julius Caesar (or really GAIVS IVLIVS CAESAR, no J, U, or lowercase letters in Latin).

Gaius was his personal name. Caesar was his family name. Julius was for the gens or clan Julia.

Your praenomen would be used by your family or closest friends. The cognomen is what everyone else would have called you (there was no Latin equivalent of Mr, Mrs, or Ms).

Absolutely no one would have called you by the nomen. So ironically, the guy we call Julius Caesar was called Julius by exactly nobody in ancient Rome.

Q: Are there any families that still have ancient Roman surnames?

Yes. The surnames and names of Roman origin are many and quite common in all the territories once belonged to the Roman Empire.

A little hint about how the nomenclature worked in Roman times:

Praenomen, the first part of the Roman name given to children at birth, with which they were called in the family, examples: Aulus, Gaius, Gnaeus, Decimus, Kaeso, Lucius etc.

Nomen Gentilitius, the name of the belonging clan (Gens) examples: Cornelia, Fabia, Claudia, Valeria etc.

Cognomen (from which derives the Italian word “Cognome” = surname), appeared initially as a nickname or personal name (given by a personal characteristic or an important event).

That distinguished an individual within the Gens (the cognomen does not appear in official documents up to about 100 BC).

During the Republic and the Empire, the cognomen passed from father to son. Some examples: Balbus, Gallus, Bassus, Marinus ecc.

That correspond to modern Italian surnames Balbo, Gallo, Basso and Marino which are among the most widespread in Italy.

Roman Last Names
What are some Roman last names

Q: How do Roman names work?

Roman names come in three distinct parts, the tria nomina, but this is misleading. Many Romans only had two names.

Some had four or more. And none of this applies to the girls. So let’s break it down.

The first part of a Roman name was the praenomen. Just like a modern first name, this was the unique name given to a son by his parents.

And, much like modern first names, some names were perenially popular.

You saw a lot of Gnaeus, Gaius, Marcus, Lucius, Tiberius, etc. You also could see names such as Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, and Octavian… literally, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eigth.

Oddly enough, each name became popular and was as likely to be given to a firstborn as a, say, sixthborn child.

The second part of a Roman name was the nomen. This was the family name, and again functioned just modern last names.

You were born with the nomen of your father, and it identified your clan – you were doubtlessly related, even if only minorly, to anyone who shared it.

Freedmen tended to take the nomen of their former masters as a sign of gratitude (Rome had a very clannish society, and knowing who you belonged to, who owed you favors, and to whom you owed favors was a big deal).

So, first name and last name. You could have, for example, Gaius Marius: Gaius, of the Marian clan. Easy. But Romans liked to personalize, and clans got big.

So we come to the cognomen. Basically, any Roman could either give themselves a nickname or take a nickname they were enamored with and stick it onto the end of their name.

Roman Last Names

This was usually done as a form of self-promotion. Give yourself a brand new cognomen.

Have a unique name that nobody else has ever had, and everyone knows they’re talking about you when your name comes up. Sometimes the self-promotion was even more obvious.

Romans who were particularly proud of a deed they’d done (usually as a general) would literally name themselves after it.

For example, we have Publius Cornelius Scipio, who defeated Hannibal in Africa and thereby became Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus.

And Gnaeus Pompey, World-conqueror and ruler of Rome in all but name, who went so far as to rename himself Gnaeus Pompey Magnus – “Pompey the Great”.

Once added, cognomen were as hereditary as nomen, and served to distinguish various branches of clans.

Thus we have Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Julius Caesar: Marcus of the Cicero branch of the Tullys and Gaius of the Caesar branch of the Julii.

(Speaking of nicknames: Cicero means “chickpea”. Presumably some ancestor had an odd-shaped wart or something.)

Both men had cognomen by being born with them, rather than adding one during their own lifetimes.

Also, as a quick note, as we can already see from Scipio Africanus, you could indeed have multiple cognomen, and they were all hereditary.

Children of particularly distinguished lines in later Rome could have up to five or six names.

Now, if you’ll recall, I mentioned at the start that all this only applied to men, and I’ve only given male examples up to this point.

Roman Last Names

So, you may be asking, what were the rules for women? And the answer is kinda horrible, and kinda hilarious.

Women didn’t have names.

I’m serious. Roman society was so insanely patriarchal that women didn’t even rate a name.

All any daughter got was a feminized version of her father’s nomen. Every daughter of the Julii was Julia.

Every daughter of the Claudiuses was Claudia. If there were multiple daughters and some need to specify which one was being talked about.

They’d get distinguished by age or birth order – Pompeia the Elder, Third Tullia.

And that’s it. As you may expect, this practice has frustrated a lot of historians over the years.

Q: What is meant by first name and last name?

In conventional usage in English and in nearly all Western countries:-

  • First name” = the 1st forename = the 1st given name
  • Middle name” = the 2nd forename = the 2nd given name
  • Last name” = surname = the hereditary family name

Example 1:-

  • John WAYNE
  • John = first name = forename = given name
  • Wayne = last name = surname = family name

Example 2:-

  • Eric Arthur BLAIR
  • Eric = first name = forename = 1st given name
  • Arthur = middle name = 2nd forename = 2nd given name
  • Eric Arthur = forenames = given names
  • Blair = last name = surname = family name


The name order is often reversed in Asian cultures (Chinese, Japanese, some Indians, etc).

Despite the different Asian naming order, the term “first name” still means the given name and “last name” the surname:—

In Chinese

  • Chan Tai Man (陳大文) — a male name
  • Chan 陳 = last name (surname) (xìng 姓 ‘surname’)
  • Tai Man 大文 = first name (given name) (míng 名 ‘name’)
  • Western restyling (general) = Tai Man Chan (‘Mr Chan’)
  • Western restyling (Hong Kong) = Tai-man Chan and T.M. Chan

In Japanese

  • Iwasaki Yukio (岩崎幸夫) – a male name
  • Iwasaki 岩崎 = last name (surname) (sei 姓)
  • Yukio 幸夫 = first name (given name) (na or mei 名)
  • Traditional Japanese style = Iwasaki Yukio = Iwasaki-san (‘Mr Iwasaki’)
  • Western restyling = Yukio Iwasaki (‘Mr Iwasaki’)

Names in Myanmar

Burmese names are the odd man out. Generally speaking, Burmese names have no surname at all and have no serial naming structure. This means Myanmar people often have just one ‘name’ and they often change at will. Three-syllable and other more complex structures in Burmese names basically started in the 1890s. Most usually, Burmese names include some kind of ‘honorific’ such as “U” in names like U Thant and U Nu.

A possible Indian misinterpretation

Over the years, I’ve noticed many instances of people from the Indian subcontinent misinterpreting “family name” to mean the name used in private family settings. It doesn’t mean that.

A person named Nikita Shekar might be called “Nik-Nik” at home, but her first name is Nikita and last name Shekar. I get asked this all the time in private, so this might or might not be common situation there.

What are some Roman last names?

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