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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
The cognomen ("name known by" in English) was originally the third name of a Roman in the Roman naming convention. The term is also occasionally seen in modern times as a synonym for nickname or epithet.

Because of the limited nature of Roman names, the cognomen developed to distinguish branches of the family from one another, and occasionally, to highlight an individual's achievement, typically in warfare. Scipio Africanus Major is one example, but some Romans – notably general Gaius Marius – had no cognomen at all. By the Late Roman Republic, however, the use of cognomens (Latin plural: cognomina) even in daily conversation had become typical.

In contrast to the honorary cognomens adopted by successful generals, most cognomens were based on a physical or personality quirk; for example, 'Rufus' meaning red-headed or 'Scaevola' meaning left-handed.

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).

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cognomen" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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