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What's in a name?

Roman names, generally speaking, can be divided into three categories—the praenomen (personal name), the nomen (family name), and the cognomen (additional personal name).

In Sub Rosa, the main character is called Quintus Aemilius Valerius. Quintus is his praenomen, Aemilius is his nomen, and Valerius is his cognomen.

To keep it straightforward for modern readers, you’ll get an idea of someone’s relationship with Quintus Aemilus Valerius by how they address him. His close family calls him Quintus. His acquaintances call him Valerius. Anyone being respectful calls him Aemilius Valerius.

And, just to confuse things, there are a few occasions where he’s called Quintus Aemilius. That’s very much a formal thing.

Roman names are one of those things where the deeper you dig, the more complicated they get! I’ve tried to keep them as simple as possible in Sub Rosa, even when that sneakily means doing the wrong thing. If you check out the Aemilii family tree on the Characters page, you’ll see that Fulvia’s first husband is called Gnaius Gavius Silanus. I abbreviated the Gnais to Gn, even though in Latin it would be proper to abbreviate it as Cn.

It also wasn’t uncommon for Romans to have a lot more than three names, or to be known by an unofficial nickname. The emperor Caligula went through a bunch of name changes, and Caligula was only ever his nickname, not an official name. The general Publius Cornelius Scipio tacked on an Africanus to his name after defeating Hannibal, and is remembered these days as Scipio Africanus.

Because of what’s called polyonomy—where elements of ancestors’ names are added into your own—a lot of Roman names got way, way out of control. The most famous of these is Quintus Pompeius Senecio Sosius Priscus, a consul during a reign of Marcus Aurelius.

His full name?

Quintus Pompeius Senecio Roscius Murena Coelius Sextus Iulius Frontinus Silius Decianus Gaius Iulius Eurycles Herculaneus Lucius Vibullius Pius Augustanus Alpinus Bellicius Sollers Iulius Aper Ducenius Proculus Rutilianus Rufinus Silius Valens Valerius Niger Claudius Fuscus Saxa Amyntianus Sosius Priscus.

By the time that was announced at dinner parties, everyone would have been onto dessert.

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