Quintus, Publius, and Other Non-Latin
Victorian name-scholars, being well-versed
in Latin and the Classics, knew all the Roman names were, well,
Roman. Romans didn't borrow other peoples' names. If these scholars
knew of the existence of the Etruscans, it was as an obscure,
non-expansionist people north of Rome who were early conquered
and absorbed. They didn't really matter. Oh, sure, there was
an Etruscan or two who managed to usurp the Roman crown, but
they had only negative effects. If anything, it would make the
Romans avoid things Etruscan.
Most baby-name books of today compile from
older books uncritically. They would never think to challenge
the linguists of old. They would also not bother digging out
the Etruscan onomasticon (for the definition of that word, see
"Alicia and Alice").
Writing a book for naming characters, whose
stories might happen any time in history, not just for naming
modern American babies, I got up to my eyebrows not only in Etruscan
and Latin names, but in their history.
Most Roman kings were Etruscans. Stories to
the contrary are later, Big Brother revisions of history. Rome
was a collection of villages made of wattle and daub until the
Etruscans took over, and not only made a city out of the pieces,
but gave it stone buildings and the Etruscan system of names.
Later, in Latin, these were known as the praenomen ("before
name," a personal name), nomen ("name," a family
name, later often a clan name), and cognomen ("known-by
name," originally an individual nickname or eke-name, later
often a sub-family name). But they originated with the Etruscans,
who were the Romans' cultural teachers. As a result, a number
of Latin names, especially praenomens, are Etruscan in origin.
Of course, it's tidier and more impressive
if an author can tell people that a name has a certain meaning.
One looks like one know lots, rather than admitting to a lack
of knowledge. By deriving names from Etruscan, we lose any meaning
because Etruscan is only spottily translatable. This is a great
improvement from the Victorian complete lack of knowledge of
the tongue, but while scholars can pick names out of funerary
and other inscriptions, they usually cannot give a meaning behind
the sound. Perhaps there was none: the Tahitians (see their chapter
in People's Names) say that names have no meanings
-- they are only names.
First among these Etruscan names is the praenomen
Aulus/Aulia (Latin names always have a female form). Aule was
an extremely popular Etruscan praenomen; the feminine Aula or
Aulia less so. Quintus may not mean "fifth"; it may
come from the relatively rare Etruscan praenomen Cuinte. Publius
derives from Pupli (a variation on Pup), Titus from Tite, and
Velus from the extremely popular Etruscan name, Vel.
Well-known Roman family names which derive
from Etruscan clans include Arrius from Arntni, Aulus from Aule,
Hirrius from Herini, Latinus from Latini, Numerius or Niumsis
from the Numsi, Pacius from Paci, Pompeii from Pumpu, the numerous
Sejanus/Seianus (who nearly took over the Empire in the reign
of Tiberius) from the Sentinate, later Seiante, Salvius from
Shalvi, Titus from Tite, Tutillius from Tutna, Vettius from Veti,
and the large Vibius clan from Vipi. These were all determined
by Helmut Dix, whose book is listed in the bibliography of People's
Crespinius will not really have meant "curly"
because it comes from the Etruscan Crespe, though certainly the
urge to make an understandable word out of a foreign name is
universal (like most English speakers can't help thinking the
Latin nomen Manlius means "manly"). Plautius is from
the Etruscan Plaute, Rufius from Rufe (so it does not mean "red"),
Scaevius is from Sceva, Spaspo from Spaspu, Tlabonius (that's
not a typo) from Tlapuni, Trebius from Trepu, and the well known
Varius from the Etruscan Vari.
So once again we see that if we care about
where names come from and what their original meanings were,
rather than just using them for their sounds, it is long past
time that the traditional attributions were re-examined in light
of the recovered knowledge of the other old languages of Europe
and the Mediterranean.
copyright 1997 by Holly Ingraham