Beyond ‘Fred’: Roman Names for Characters

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Finding a good name is sometimes the hardest part of designing an NPC. You want something more exotic than “Fred the Fighter”, but “Frewxyque the Grand Thunder Duke” becomes too hard to say with a straight face after the first first time.  Baby name books can help, but some of the best names come from real-world sources. Beyond ‘Fred’ is a series that lists names from various sources broken down by region and/or time period.

<div xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" about="http://www.flickr.com/photos/consciousvision/3388909371/"><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=This time we have Roman names. Since my interest here is in providing name ideas for RPGs, I’m not breaking these names down by Roman time-period. I’m including a list of resources at the end of this article for those wishing more in-depth information about Roman names.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr, © Conscious Vision 2007)

Roman Name Structure

Roman names had several parts, frequently becoming long and complex:

  • Praenomen: A personal name. This was primarily used by family members and very close friends only. Romans had very few praenomen; typically the first child would be given the father’s praenomen (adjusted to a feminine form, if the child was a girl).  The second child would receive the praenomen of someone else in the family — and uncle, perhaps.
  • Nomen: Indicates which gens the person belongs to. The gens is a group of loosely organized families all sharing the same nomen. A woman would use the feminine form of the nomen, formed by substituting ‘-a’ for the ‘-us’ ending.
  • Cognomen: A family name used by a group of blood relatives. It was a name unique to the individual and usually referred to something specific about him — usually a physical characteristic. Like a nickname, it wasn’t given to a child as part of the name given by his parents; it could be inherited from a male relative or chosen by concensus in the general community. Cognomen were almost never complementary — usually they were neutral, or even insulting names.

Common Praenomenia

Here are some of the most commonly used prenomen:

  • Gaius/Gaia
  • Lucius/Lucia
  • Marcus/Marcia
  • Quintus/Quinta
  • Titus/Tita
  • Tiberius/Tiberia
  • Descimus/Descima
  • Aulus/Aula
  • Servius/Servia
  • Appius/Appia

Common Nomenia

Here are some of the most common nomen:

  • Acilius/Acilia
  • Aebutius/Aebutia
  • Albius/Albia
  • Antonius/Antonia
  • Cassius/Cassia
  • Claudius/Claudia
  • Calidius/Calidia
  • Didius/Didia
  • Fabius/Fabia
  • Flavius/Flavia
  • Galerius/Galeria
  • Genucius/Genucia
  • Laelius/Laelia
  • Marius/Maria
  • Mocius/Mocia
  • Naevius/Naevia
  • Ovidius/Ovidia
  • Porcius/Porcia
  • Rutilius/Rutilia
  • Sentius/Sentia
  • Sergius/Sergia
  • Tarquitius/Tarquitia
  • Tuccius/Tuccia
  • Tullius/Tullia
  • Vedius/Vedia
  • Vibius/Vibia
  • Vitruvius/Vitruvia

Common Cognomina

Here’s a list of common cognomen and their meanings. Many female cognomia are the same as the male versions:

  • Aculeo/Aculeo – prickly, unfriendly
  • Albus/Alba – fair-skinned, white
  • Ambustus/Ambusta – scalding, burning
  • Atellus/Atella – dark (haired or skinned)
  • Bassus/Bassa – plump
  • Bibulus/Bibula – drunkard
  • Brocchus/Broccha – Toothy
  • Bucco/Bucco – fool
  • Caecus/Caeca – Blind
  • Calidus/Calida – hot-headed, rash
  • Calvus/Calva – bald
  • Caninus/Canina – dog-like
  • Celsus/Celsa – tall
  • Cicurinus/Cicurina – mild, gentle
  • Corvinus/Corvina – crow-like
  • Dives/Dives – wealthy
  • Dorsuo/Dorsuo – large black
  • Fimbria/Fimbria – fringes, edges of clothing
  • Flavus/Flava – blond-haired
  • Florus/Flora – floral, blooming
  • Galeo/Galeo – helmet
  • Gurges/Gurges – greedy, prodigal
  • Laterensis/Laterensis – from the hill-side
  • Lepidus/Lepida – charming, amusing
  • Licinus/Licina – spiky or bristly haired
  • Lurco/Lurco – glutonous, greedy
  • Macer/Macra – thin
  • Merula/Merula – blackbird
  • Mus/Mus – mouse
  • Natta/Natta – artisan
  • Paetus/Paeta – blinking, squinty
  • Plancus Planca – flat-footed
  • Priscus/Prisca – ancient
  • Pullus/Pulla – child
  • Quadratus/Quadrata – squat, stocky build
  • Regulus/Regula – prince
  • Rufus/Rufa – red-haired, ruddy
  • Rullus/Rulla – rustic, uncultivated, boorish
  • Scaeva/Scaeva – left-handed
  • Silanus/Silana – nose, water-spout
  • Varro/Varro – block-headed
  • Varus/Vara – bow-legged
  • Vatia/Vatia – knock-kneed
  • Vetus/Vetus – old

Other Articles in this Series

Resources:

6 responses to “Beyond ‘Fred’: Roman Names for Characters

  1. I love Roman names, they are so intricate yet direct.

    I have used the family name of Julian across various campaigns when playing Roman-inspired characters.
    .-= Sean Holland´s last blog ..New Monster – Leather Man =-.

    • Julian is a great name — one I’ve used a lot for characters.

      I agree with what you said about Roman names. It just goes to show you can have something that sounds beautifully complex without playing “alphabet soup” with a name.

  2. Gary Gygax latterly lent his name to a book (The Book of Names, in fact) which actually provides rules to roll historic-style names syllable by syllable.
    I don’t recommend this process 😉
    .-= Hammer´s last blog ..Equipment: Hammer’s Big Green Bag of Holding =-.

    • I remember that book. It wasn’t great, but it was a whole lot better than the random name generator programs available at the time 😉

  3. Pingback: Friday Links for October 9, 2009 (a day early) | Moebius Adventures

  4. I am frequently looking for new blogposts in the internet about this matter. Thanx.

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