In ancient Rome, the drafting of recruits into an army always began with soldiers called Valerius or Salvius, because they were considered auspicious names. Damnatio memoriae decrees meant that the descendants of the condemned individual were prohibited from using his first name and stripped of it if they were alive. Place names associated with bad luck, such as Maleventum or Epidamnus, were replaced with toponyms that were deemed propitious (Beneventum) or at least neutral (Dyrrachium). New colonies were given names suggesting abundance or power, such as Florentia and Valentia. An impenetrable reticence enveloped the secret name of Rome, which was guarded to prevent enemies from taking possession of it and using that knowledge to harm the city. In short, proper names were involved in a wide variety of cultural practices, as described in this original and fascinating book.
Mario Lentano teaches Latin Language and Literature at the University of Siena.