) was originally the third name of an Ancient Roman
in the Roman naming convention
. The cognomen
started as a nickname
, but lost that purpose when it became hereditary (and thus more like a family name
is derived from the prefix co-
("together with") and nomen
("name"). The term (with an Anglicized
) has taken on a less specific meaning.
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 is Scipio Africanus Major
, but some Romans – notably general Gaius Marius
– had no cognomen
at all. By the Late Roman Republic
, however, the use of cognomina
even in daily conversation had become typical. In the early Roman Empire
we find the Annaean clan differentiating brothers solely by the cognomen
: Lucius Annaeus Seneca Maior had three sons: L. Annaeus Novatus, L. Annaeus Seneca Minor and L. Annaeus Mela.
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.
The upper-class usually used the cognomen to refer to one another.
Today, we refer to many prominent ancient Romans by only their cognomen; for example, Cicero (meaning "chickpea") serves as a shorthand for Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Caesar for Gaius Julius Caesar (see Etymology of the name of Julius Caesar).
General English-language usage
) 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
and other adopted (or commonly applied) nicknames
or professional names.