The praenomen (Classical Latin: [prae̯'noː.mɛn]; plural: praenomina) was a personal name chosen by the parents of a Roman child. It was first bestowed on the dies lustricus (day of lustration), the eighth day after the birth of a girl, or the ninth day after the birth of a boy. The praenomen would then be formally conferred a second time when girls married, or when boys assumed the toga virilis upon reaching manhood. Although it was the oldest of the tria nomina commonly used in Roman naming conventions, by the late republic, most praenomina were so common that most people were called by their praenomina only by family or close friends. For this reason, although they continued to be used, praenomina gradually disappeared from public records during imperial times. Although both men and women received praenomina, women's praenomina were frequently ignored, and they were gradually abandoned by many Roman families, though they continued to be used in some families and in the countryside.


The tria nomina, consisting of praenomen, nomen and cognomen, which are today regarded as a distinguishing feature of Roman culture, first developed and spread throughout Italy in pre-Roman times. Most of the people of Italy spoke languages belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family; the three major groups within the Italian Peninsula were the Latino-Faliscan languages, including the tribes of the Latini, or Latins, who formed the core of the early Roman populace, and their neighbors, the Falisci and Hernici; the Oscan languages, including the Sabines, who also contributed to early Roman culture, as well as the Samnites, and many other peoples of central and southern Italy; and the Umbrian languages, spoken by the Umbri of the Central Apennines, the rustic Picentes of the Adriatic coast, and the Volsci.

In addition to the Italic peoples was the Etruscan civilization, whose language was unrelated to Indo-European, but who exerted a strong cultural influence throughout much of Italy, including early Rome.[1]

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.[2]

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.[1][3][4]

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.[3][5][6]

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.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Römische Vornamen
čeština: Praenomen
español: Praenomen
estremeñu: Praenomen
euskara: Praenomen
français: Prénom romain
Latina: Praenomen
Nederlands: Praenomen
svenska: Praenomen