Later developments


It was usual for the Romans, in the person of a conquering general, later the emperor or a governor of a province, to make individual grants of Roman citizenship, which involved the recipient in adopting the Roman style of nomenclature. The Roman naming system was fundamentally different from the Greek, involving three names, praenomen, nomen and cognomen, with the patronymic expressed by a formula which came after the nomen. Thus: G(aius) Julius G(aii) f(ilius) Caesar.

Greeks receiving Roman citizenship would adopt the praenomen and nomen of the donor; in this way, names like Julius and Flavius first made their way into Greek nomenclature, in a variety of spellings (Φλαουιος, Φλαβιος ). For their cognomen, though Greeks did sometimes adopt Roman names, they more usually retained their Greek name. Thus, Gaius Julius Alexander, Titus Flavius Alcibiades.

The traditional Greek patronymic system did not fit easily into the Roman pattern, and Greeks adopted a number of strategies to cope with the problem. Sometimes they imitated the Roman system completely, but sometimes they simply appended the name of the father after the cognomen, either simply in the genitive, or with an ‘explanatory’ formula. For example, Τιβ. Κλαυδιος Αλεξανδρος πριν Φιλιππου ‘Tib. Klaudios Alexander, formerly son of Filippos’, meaning not that the person had been adopted, but that previously he would have expressed his patronymic this way.

After 212 AD, all free inhabitants of the Roman Empire became citizens under the Constitutio Antoniniana, with the nomen Aurelius. But throughout the Roman period, even after 212 AD, Greeks are found bearing Roman names as single names ‘in the Greek manner’. LGPN has many examples of names such as Μαρκος, Ιουλιος, Τιτος and Φορτουνατος borne in this way, and also Greek forms developed from them, Μαρκιων, Ιουλιττα, Φορτυνατιων etc.



Christianity was destined to make a permanent impact on Greek nomenclature, but the change was neither sudden nor simple. Some ‘Christian’ names, such as John (Ιωαννης), Anna and Maria, were, of course, Jewish. In time, but not much before the fourth century AD, new ‘Christian’ names appeared, formed on the Greek pattern but incorporating the values of the new religion, for example Eusebios. The old pagan ‘neutral’ theophoric names such as Theodora and Theophilos continued in use and so became ‘Christian’, alongside a new compound, Theo-doulos (`servant of God’), comparable to Christo-doulos (‘servant of Christ’), unprecedented in pagan theophoric names.

In the fourth century AD, John Chrysostom urged parents to name their children after saints and martyrs and not after ancestors. That he should have had to make this appeal, clearly intended to promote Christian over old pagan names, is an indication of the inherent conservatism of naming practices. But even when heeded, the appeal would not necessarily have secured the intended result. Saints and martyrs were as likely as not to bear ‘pagan’ names such as Demetrius, Dionysia and Alexandra, and so these pagan names continued in use with a renewed authority, which has helped secure their survival into modern times.

In the correspondence of Libanius, in the fourth century AD, the names of recipients show a mixture of Roman names such as Marcus, Proclus, Modestus, Priscianus, Ioulianus, old Greek names such as Andronikos, Alexandros, Dionysios, Leontios, and a certain number of distinctly Christian names such as Eusebios, Eustathios, Euphemios. A century later, in the correspondence of the Christian Isidoros of Pelusion, more distinctively ‘Christian’ names such as Eulogios, Eulampios and Kyrillos account for a greater proportion, but there are also surprising survivals such as Isidoros, Serapion and Apollonios.

By this period, a general simplification in nomenclature had taken place, the patronymic had largely disappeared, and the ethnic fallen into disuse.