Monday, July 2, 2007

Roman girls' names

I was lurking over at Michelle Styles' blog, and saw this post where she talks about the name of the heroine in her newest Roman historical. It got me thinking about the names of my own Roman characters, in particular the female ones.

The standard naming convention for Roman girls is famously unimaginative. Probably due in part to the fact that she "belonged" to her father, a girl wasn't usually given a personal praenomen, but instead was given a feminised form of her father's family name and cognomen. So the daughter of Caecilius Metellus would be Caecilia Metella, the daughter of Livius Ocellus would be Livia Ocella, etc. There were exceptions to the rule, obviously, but this was the standard way of doing it.

This caused me a bit of hassle when it came to naming the two sisters of one of my Roman characters. The father's name is M. Valerius Laevinus, so as far as I can tell, both girls should be called Valeria Laevina, with the added moniker Majora/Prima for the elder, and Minor/Secunda for the younger one. Of course, it would be too confusing to call them both Valeria, so I decided to just refer to the elder one as Valeria. This leaves the little one. I don't think calling her Secunda would be too bad, except it strikes me that the "number name" was simply for official purposes. Would parents simply call their daughters "One" and "Two"?

There is evidence that girls had nicknames, but I'm not sure these became official names like cognomina. "Claudia Trifosa" seems to indicate that they sometimes did, but I don't know whether she was an exceptional case or not.

It could come down to how the family, and the girl, thought of her as. Given the personality of the father of these two sisters, very conservative and authoritative, I could imagine he might call his elder daughter Valeria, to "link" her to the family, and Secunda - the second daughter. Of course, Secunda's mother, sister and brother might have another nickname for her, but I've not found a good one yet.

By the imperial period, as well, it seems girls, especially those of aristocratic birth, were given names that linked them to renowned ancestors, not necessarily their fathers. Some had their mother's name, and some had their mother's nomen along with their father's. In the Republic, it seems there was a tradition of a married woman taking the feminised form of her husband's cognomen, but it seems to have become obsolete by the imperial period, with the focus being on keeping the girl's link to her ancestors apparent.

It makes sense, therefore, for my Aurelia Cotta (the daughter of Q. Aurelius Cotta, a Senator), to keep her maiden name after her marriage to A. Lucilius Atellus, a tribune, since in my chronology her father is more renowned than her husband, and all my sources so far seem to indicate that by the first and second centuries AD, women didn't take their husband's name.

But I don't know. It's a bit of a mess, depending on period and class, and whether the parents wanted to stick to the rules. I will research it to death tomorrow and finally figure it out.

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