A ''cognomen'' (, ; Latin plural ''cognomina''; from ''con-'' "together with" and ''(g)nomen'' "name") was the third name of a citizen of ancient Rome
, under Roman naming conventions
. Initially, it was a nickname
, but lost that purpose when it became hereditary. Hereditary ''cognomina'' were used to augment the second name, the ''gens
'' (the family name
, or clan name), in order to identify a particular branch within a family or family within a clan. The term has also taken on other contemporary meanings.
Because of the limited nature of the Latin ''praenomen
'', the ''cognomen'' developed to distinguish branches of the family from one another, and occasionally, to highlight an individual's achievement, typically in warfare. One example of this is Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus
, whose cognomen ''Magnus'' was earned after his military victories under Sulla
's dictatorship. The ''cognomen'' was a form of distinguishing people who accomplished important feats, and those who already bore a ''cognomen'' were awarded another exclusive name, the agnomen
. For example, Publius Cornelius Scipio
received the agnomen ''Africanus'' after his victory over the Carthaginian general Hannibal
at Zama, Africa (''Africanus'' here means "of Africa" in the sense that his fame derives from Africa, rather than being born in Africa, which would have been ''Afer''); and the same procedure occurred in the names of Quintus Caecilius Metellus ''Numidicus''
(conqueror of Numidia) and Quintus Caecilius Metellus ''Macedonicus''
In contrast to the honorary ''cognomina'' adopted by successful generals, most ''cognomina'' were based on a physical or personality quirk; for example, ''Rufus'' meaning "red-haired
" or ''Scaevola
'' meaning "left-handed
". Some cognomina were hereditary (such as Caesar
among a branch of the Julii
, Brutus and Silanus among the Junii
, or Pilius and Metellus
among the Caecilii
): others tended to be individual. And some names appear to have been used both as ''praenomen'', ''agnomen
'', or non-hereditary ''cognomen''. For instance, ''Vopiscus'' was used as both ''praenomen'' and ''cognomen'' in the Julii Caesares; likewise ''Nero'' among the early imperial Claudii
, several of whom used the traditional hereditary Claudian cognomen as a praenomen.
The upper-class usually used the ''cognomen'' to refer to one another.
In present academic context, many prominent ancient Romans are referred to by only their ''cognomen''; for example, Cicero
(from ''cicer'' "chickpea
") serves as a shorthand for Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Caesar
for Gaius Julius Caesar
As a contemporary term
The term "cognomen" (sometimes pluralized "cognomens") has come into use as an English noun used outside the context of Ancient Rome. According to the 2012 edition of the ''Random House Dictionary
'', cognomen can mean a "surname" or "any name, especially a nickname".Cognomen
dictionary.com The basic sense in English is "how one is well known". For example Alfred the Great. (This is more similar to the Roman use of agnomen than their use of cognomen.)
Catalan ''cognom'' and Italian ''cognome,'' derived from the Latin ''cognomen'', mean "family name". Maltese ''kunjom'' is derived from the Italian version, retaining the same meaning.
The term "cognomen" can also be applied to cultures with a clan structure and naming conventions comparable to those of Ancient Rome; thus, hereditary "cognomina" have been described as in use among the Xhosa (Iziduko), the Yoruba (Oriki), and the Zulu (Isibongo).
*List of Roman cognomina
*Roman naming conventions
* Courtesy name
Harold Whetstone Johnston (revised Mary Johnston), The Private Life of the Romans, 1932, Chapter 2: Roman Names
Category:Roman naming conventions