The cognomen (English: /kɒɡˈnoʊmɛn/,[1] /ˈkɒɡnəmən/;[2] Latin: [koːŋˈnoːmen]; Latin plural cōgnōmina; con- "together with" and (g)nōmen "name") was the third name of a citizen of Ancient Rome, under Roman naming conventions. The cognomen started as a nickname, but lost that purpose when it became hereditary. Hereditary cognomina were used to augment the second name (the family name, or clan name) in order to identify a particular branch within a family or family within a clan. Outside of this particular use of the word, the term has taken on a variety of other meanings in the contemporary era.



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 being 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 made 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 means "conqueror of Africa" and not "the african", although it is usually translated as "the african"); 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. Virtually all 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.[3]

Today, we refer to many prominent ancient Romans by only their cognomen; for example, Cicero (from cicer "chickpea") serves as a shorthand for Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Caesar for Gaius Julius Caesar (see Etymology of the name of Julius Caesar).


Cognomen (pluralized cognomens) has also been assimilated into English, and is used more generally (i.e. outside the context of Ancient Rome and Latin naming) as a catch-all term for monikers, stage names, pen names, aliases and other adopted (or commonly applied) nicknames or professional names.[citation needed]

Romance languages

Catalan cognom and Italian cognome, derived from the Latin word, mean "family name".

In Africa

The word can also be used to refer to a number of naming and incantatory customs that are native to the African continent. Ranging as these do from the single word Iziduko of the Xhosa people of Southern Africa to the great stanzas of Oriki that are found amongst the Yorubas of West Africa, hereditary cognomens in this case are used in much the same way today as the Cognomina were during the classical period of Rome. They typically distinguish a family or clan from others of the same tribe, honour its founder and remind his or her descendants who make up the said family or clan to live up to their legacy.

Beyond this particular form, there are also traditions of tribespeople taking either group names or individual names following a ritual initiation, though this would probably be more of a religious name than a cognomen.

See also


  1. ^ "cognomen". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1989.
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster Dictionary cognomen
  3. ^ Powell, J.G.F. "A Note on the Use of the Praenomen" The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 34, No. 1. (1984), pp. 238-239.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • cognomen — COGNÓMEN s. v. nume, poreclă, supranume. Trimis de siveco, 18.11.2008. Sursa: Sinonime  cognómen s. n., pl. cognómene Trimis de siveco, 21.01.2008. Sursa: Dicţionar ortografic  COGNÓMEN s.n. Al treilea nume al unei persoane, care arată familia …   Dicționar Român

  • cognomen — ● cognomen nom masculin (latin cognomen) Chez les Romains, surnom donné à l origine à un individu, en souvenir d une action d éclat, ou à cause d une particularité généralement physique (le cognomen est ensuite devenu héréditaire) …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Cognomen —   das, s/...mina, im lateinischen Namenssystem der dritte Bestandteil des Gesamtnamens (z. B. Gaius Iulius »Caesar«). Zunächst der Benennung einzelner Personen dienend, wurde das Cognomen später erblich und bezeichnete einzelne Zweige einer… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • cognomen — (Del lat. cognōmen, ĭnis). m. Sobrenombre usado en la antigua Roma para destacar rasgos físicos o acciones de una persona, que se extendía a su familia o gentes afines …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Cognomen — Cog*no men, n. [L.: co + (g)nomen name.] 1. The last of the three names of a person among the ancient Romans, denoting his house or family. [1913 Webster] 2. (Eng. Law) A surname. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Cognōmen — (lat.), Zu od. Beiname, s. u. Name; daher Cognominiren, Einem einen Zunamen geben, u. Cognomination, die Ertheilung eines Zu od. Beinamen …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Cognōmen — (lat.), Zuname, s. Name …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Cognomen — Cognōmen (lat.), Familienname, s. Name …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Cognomen — Cognomen, Beiname, bei den Römern der Familienname zum Unterschiede von dem Geschlechte (gens); z.B. in L. Junius Brutus ist Lucius der Personenname, Junius der Name des Geschlechts, Brutus der der Familie; so M. Portius Cato etc …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • Cognomen —    • Cognōmen,          см. Nomen, Имя, II …   Реальный словарь классических древностей

  • cognomen — I noun appelation, appellative, byname, byword, denomination, designation, name, nickname, sobriquet, style II index call (title), sobriquet, term (expression) …   Law dictionary

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