Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.03.12

Paolo Poccetti (ed.), Les prénoms de l'Italie antique, Journée d'études, Lyon, 26 janvier 2004. Ricerche sull lingue di frammentaria attestaziona 5.   Pisa/Roma:  Fabrizio Serra, 2008.  Pp. 150.  ISBN 9788862270489.  €48.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by D. M. Goldstein, University of California, Berkeley (
Word count: 1438 words

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This collection of papers results from a journée d'études held at Lyons on 26 January 2004, which brought together French and Italian scholars to examine the praenomina of the fragmentary languages (Etruscan and Sabellian, essentially) of ancient Italy. Etrusco-Italic onomastics has witnessed dramatic advances over the past two decades, thanks especially to the inspiring work of the late Helmut Rix, among others. This volume, while compact, maintains the impressive trajectory. Within the domain of praenomina, the range of topics is broad and stimulating, from Etruscan diminutive morphology to Italic sociolinguistics. As such, it demonstrates the fascinating depths of onomastics; the downside, however, is that the volume does not cohere particularly well at a thematic level, and I do not imagine one sitting down to read the volume from cover to cover (though I can vouch for the pleasure and benefit of doing so). Rather, its articles will be consulted piecemeal by graduate students and more advanced scholars who have a developed interest in the onomastics of ancient Italy beyond Latin. The articles are of high quality, and particularly useful for their collections of data. In what follows, I offer a brief description of each contribution; more attention is given to the articles that I imagine to be of more central concern to the readers of BMCR.1

The volume is introduced by Frédérique Biville, who provides a brief overview of the participants and their papers, and summarizes recent work in Etruscan and Italic onomastics. She also offers a sound prospectus of just how much can be learned from this subdiscipline.2 The first paper is by Olli Salomies, who, in 1987, published the majestic Die Römischen Vornamen. Studien zur römischen Namengebung. In this article he updates some of the entries, adds new ones, and deletes some that are no longer thought to exist. Two other articles also offer new and useful collections of data. The first is by Fabrice Poli, who offers a collection of five Etruscan inscriptions from the Royal Ontario Museum. The inscriptions are from vases and funerary urns and range from two letters to several words. The second is by Gilles van Heems, who offers a thorough description and analysis of Etruscan diminutive morphology; this includes not only truncation (e.g. Θαναχ nil > Θ ana ) but also a rich collection of morphemes (namely, -za, -iu, -cu, -(i)le, -la, -tu). He complements his descriptive account with an inquiry into the age and socio-political class of the individuals receiving these names, as well as the productivity of each morpheme.

The remaining articles are devoted to more specific questions. Jean Hadas-Lebel argues that the Umbrian abbreviation Vois. reflects the Voisis, which is cognate with Latin Lucius < Loukios. His proposal counters the current interpretation (proposed by Vetter) that Vois. represents Volsio- (cf. Volsienus). Dominique Briquel provides a thorough review of the ancient sources concerning the royal name Servius. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, among others, claims that Ocresia (Servius' mother) gave him the praenomen Servius because she bore him while she was a slave; the name Tullius descends from his father. There are various questions here, including whether the name Servius was derived from seruus or servare, what sort of shadow semantics these connections would activate, and whether Servius' father bore the praenomen Servius or Spurius. As for the gentilicium Tullius, Briquel points out (p. 44) a fundamental problem with Dionysius' account: as a slave, Ocresia could not have transmitted the name of her husband, Tullius, to her son. He concludes that the name Servius need not have indicated a servile origin (p. 48), and that Dionysius bases his claim on Servius' low birth. As such, this may be a case where a name creates rather than reflects history. Briquel's points are well taken, and his article prompts the further question: why did Dionysius and others after him find the aetiology of Servius' name persuasive?

The last two articles are sociolinguistic investigations and are, to my mind, the most interesting of the volume. In the first, Emmanual Dupraz examines the changing linguistic ecology of North Oscan territory (Vestinians, Marrucinians, Paelignians) through praenomina. North Oscan inscriptions are attested from the 3rd to 1st centuries BCE; during this time the number of Latin inscriptions gradually increases and from the middle of the 1st century BCE only Latin is attested. Through the epigraphic data, we can thus chart the Latinization of the region and the concomitant death of North Oscan (at least in its written form). As Dupraz shows, onomastic data form a sub-system with their own behavior and thus offer unique insight into the process of Roman acculturation. In inscriptions datable to the 3rd and 2nd centuries, there are 57 tokens of praenomina attested, which yield 17 different masculine names: 13 of these are purely Oscan,3 three are common to Oscan and Latin, and one is exclusively Latin. In the middle of the first century, there are ca. 255 attested tokens of praenomina, which yield 28 different names: 17 of these are purely Oscan, four are common to Oscan and Latin (Lucius, Titus, Gaius, and Gnaeus), and seven are purely Latin. As we would expect, the token-frequency of uniquely Latin names increases dramatically: from less than one percent in the earlier period to ca. 18 percent in the later. Of greater interest is the fact that the token frequency of names common to both Latin and Oscan also exhibits a significant increase: in this period, it accounts for ca. 60 percent of all names, while in the earlier period it accounted for ca. 35 percent. These bicultural names are the most productive overall; Dupraz notes also that the token frequency of Lucius and Titus in particular is higher in North Oscan territory than in Rome itself at this time. He interprets this as a way for North Oscans to simultaneously maintain their native culture and adapt to that of the Romans. And even when North Oscans do borrow uniquely Latin names, their usage of the names does not mimic that of the Romans, as we find different token frequencies for such names in the two areas. So in this way local identity can be still be created in the face of a moribund local language.4

Paolo Poccetti closes the volume with his ambitious study of onomastics in archaic Campania, where we find Etruscan names in Greek and Italic contexts, and vice versa. These data are extremely interesting in terms of loanword adaptation and morphophonology, and Poccetti's article is of considerable value for the wealth of evidence that it brings together. Particularly interesting is his discussion of the complexities of the diffusion of the name Mamarkos/Mamerkos in Etruscan, Sabellic, Latin, and Greek sources. On the social level, one question that I was left with was how we determine whether the occurrence of names in foreign contexts (e.g. an Etruscan name in an Oscan inscription) is a case of borrowing (i.e. a Samnite with an Etruscan name) or whether we have an actual Etruscan individual named in an Oscan-language inscription, in which case the name would not be borrowed per se. I also wonder to what extent it will be possible to synthesize the data that Poccetti has collected to build an account of social history or loanword phonology.5

There is a noticeable absence of Anglo-American scholarship in each of these articles. While it is certainly true that much of the work in this field is being carried out by continental Europeans, still one wonders how, e.g., Jim Adams' seminal work on bilingualism6 could not have been useful for at least the last two papers. The volume is peppered with typographic errors of varying degrees of irritation; the binding and paper are of remarkably high quality. An index of forms would have significantly increased the utility of the volume. In sum, this is a welcome and accomplished little volume that testifies to the continuing strength of Etrusco-Italic onomastics. It is through detailed investigations such as those presented here that we will be able to answer the larger social and sociolinguistic questions posed by the diverse remains of ancient Italy.

Authors and titles:

Frédérique Biville, Avant-propos

Olli Salomies, Les prénoms italiques: un bilan de presque vingt ans après la publications de Vornamen

Dominique Briquel, Le prénom du roi Servius Tullius dénote-t-il un origine servile?

Fabrice Poli, Les inscriptions Étrusques du Royal Ontario Museum

Jean Hadas-Lebel, Une nouvelle interprétation de l'abreviation prénominale ombrienneVois.

Gilles van Heems, Diminutifs, sobriquets et hypocoristiques étrusques

Emmanual Dupraz, Des prénoms sabelliqus aux prénoms latins en pays nord-osque

Paolo Poccetti, Reflets des contacts des langues dans les prénoms de la Campanie ancienne


1.   I would, however, like to note the recent appearance of Rex Wallace's Zikh Rasna: A Manual of the Etruscan Language and Inscriptions (Ann Arbor/New York 2008), which will undoubtedly make Etruscan evidence far more accessible to classicists.
2.   The information that Biville provides for the articles in the volume in some cases differs from what we find in the actual article; the inconcinnity involves only misquoted titles or miscited facts.
3.   The (potential) Oscan name Asinius leads Dupraz into a consideration of the noun asinus 'ass.' His suggestion (p. 115) that it was borrowed during the period of common Italic is problematic: for if borrowed at such an early date, how and why did it escape rhotacism (i.e. > **arinus)? This question is not raised.
4.   Comparison between the case of North Oscan and that of Gaul may offer further insights into Romanization, sociolinguistic change, and language death: see Karin Stüber, "Effects of Language Contact on Roman and Gaulish Personal Names," in Hildegard L.C. Tristram, ed., The Celtic Languages in Contact: Papers from the Workshop Within the Framework of the XIII International Congress of Celtic Studies, Bonn, 26 - 27 July 2007 (Potsdam 2007): 81-92. (The volume has been published online at
5.   For a recent example of social analysis rooted in onomastics, see S. Marchesini, Prosopographia etrusca. II.1 Studia: Gentium mobilitas. (Rome 2007).
6.   J. N. Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin Language (Cambridge 2003); or J. N. Adams, M. Janse, S. Swain, edd., Bilingualism in Ancient Society (Oxford 2002).

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2009
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:33:36, Friday, 03 April 2009