The praenomen (Classical Latin:
The tria nomina, consisting of praenomen,
In addition to the Italic peoples was the
The Italic nomenclature system cannot clearly be attributed to any one of these cultures, but seems to have developed simultaneously amongst each of them, perhaps due to constant contact between them. It first appears in urban centers and thence gradually spread to the countryside. In the earliest period, each person was known by a single name, or nomen. These nomina were monothematic; that is, they expressed a single concept or idea. As populations grew, many individuals might be known by the same name. Unlike the other cultures of Europe, which dealt with this problem by adopting dithematic names (names expressing two ideas), the peoples of Italy developed the first true surnames, or cognomina.
At first these were generally personal names, and might refer to any number of things, including a person's occupation, town of origin, the name of his or her father, or some physical feature or characteristic. But gradually an increasing number of them became hereditary, until they could be used to distinguish whole families from one generation to another. As this happened, the word nomen came to be applied to these surnames, and the original personal name came to be called the praenomen, or "forename", as it was usually recited first. Cognomen came to refer to any other personal or hereditary surnames coming after the family name, and used to distinguish individuals or branches of large families from one another.
As the tria nomina developed throughout Italy, the importance of the praenomen in everyday life declined considerably, together with the number of praenomina in common use. By the 1st century they were occasionally omitted from public records, and by the middle of the 4th century they were seldom recorded. As the Roman Empire expanded, much of the populace came from cultures with different naming conventions, and the formal structure of the tria nomina became neglected. Various names that were originally nomina or cognomina came to be treated as praenomina, and some individuals used several of them at once. However, some vestiges of the original system survived, and many of the original praenomina have continued into modern times.
Most common praenomina were regularly abbreviated in writing (in speech the full name would always be used). Although some names could be abbreviated multiple ways, the following tables include only the most usual abbreviation, if any, for each name. These abbreviations continue to be used by classical scholars.