ONLINE: HelRAW: Tuomo Nuorluoto 5.10.2020

The Helsinki Research on the Ancient World (HelRAW) is a monthly research seminar. HelRAW is organized by the SpaceLaw project together with Marja Vierros from the Digital Grammar of Greek Documentary Papyri (PapyGreek) project.

5.10.2020 at 17:15 


Meeting ID: 664 4383 6012 

Passcode: 716131 

Tuomo Nuorluoto (Uppsala University): Roman Female Cognomina: Studies in the Nomenclature of Roman Women.

The cognomen was the latest component to be introduced into the Roman name system. For most of the republican period it was essentially the property of the senatorial aristocracy—that is to say, senatorial men. In this context the cognomen was normally a hereditary item, being transmitted from fathers to sons, or an additional name of more personal nature, which was acquired at a ripe age (e.g. due to a military victory or a political office) (1). Most Roman women, regardless of rank, were throughout the Republic known by one name only, viz. their father’s nomen (or gentile name) in the feminine form. To put it bluntly, women in the official sphere were, from an onomastic point of view, referred to as members of their gens, but not as individuals, at least not in the same sense as men. 

In the late republican period, however, the practice of using cognomina started to spread throughout the Roman society. These new cognomina were normally not hereditary but individual names given soon after birth. This initiated an important historical process, during which the Roman onomastic system eventually developed from a situation, in which only a few citizens had a cognomen, to the point, in which practically everybody had one, Roman women included. For men this meant that the initial, individualizing function of the praenomen shifted to the cognomen, which eventually lead to the diminishing of the praenomen. For women, however, the consequences were even more significant, since it was only through the advent of the cognomen that all Roman women received a name that gave them a true individual identity in the public eye (2). 

It is the purpose of my doctoral thesis to thoroughly discuss the female cognomen from a broad sociolinguistic and cultural historical perspective. The aim is, on the one hand, to discuss what kind of names Roman women had and could have, and on the other, why and how such names could be chosen. These practices are observed through time and space, during a time period of c. 400 years (c. 100 BCE - 300 CE) and throughout the Roman Empire (with emphasis on the city of Rome and the Italian peninsula), as well as in different layers of the society. The material for the study consists of written primary sources, mostly of epigraphic nature.   

(1) Of the type Africanus, Censorinus. And these names, too, could become hereditary. 

(2) During the Republic women could and sometimes did have praenomina, as is shown by numerous inscriptions, but the practice was never universal. For more discussion, see M. Kajava, Roman Female Praenomina: Studies in the Nomenclature of Roman Women (Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae 14), Rome 1994. 

Tuomo Nuorluoto is a PhD student at Department of Linguistics and Philology at Uppsala University.