Does an irregular word decline regularly if it is used as a proper name? For example, imagine there is a dog name Rex (=King). We might have:

Vide Regem currentem.

See Rex run. However, since Rex is used as a proper name would you change to regularized ending like this:

Vide Rexum currentem.

  • I took the liberty to edit your accusative endings from -um to -em. The present participle follows the third declension.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 27, 2020 at 22:26
  • 3
    Rex is not an irregular word, it's a regular third-declension noun. Rexum, if it existed, would be a second-declension form, but there's no reason to move a word between declensions just because it's being used as a name.
    – TKR
    Nov 28, 2020 at 1:37
  • There's a similar precedent, Rex (Regis) used as a cognomen though. I'd go with the same declension paradigm.
    – Alex B.
    Nov 28, 2020 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


Latin proper names certainly can be declined in the third declension, like the common noun rēx, rēgis

First, a small note on terminology: the noun rēx "king" is not generally considered to decline irregularly. Latin has several declension classes for nouns; I think you most likely are considering a noun to be regular if it belongs to the first or second declension, but the majority of nouns in the third, fourth, and fifth declension also follow rules according to their declension class and are considered regular in that case (although the third declension has several subclasses, and the fourth and especially fifth declensions are so small that the total number of nouns that follow their regular patterns is also fairly small.)

The third declension contains a great number of common nouns and adjectives in Latin. It also contains many well-attested proper nouns, such as Cicerō, Caesar, Iūnō, Mārs, which form their accusatives as Cicerōnem, Caesarem, Iūnōnem, Mārtem.

There are a number of examples of dog names from antiquity that are identical to Greek common nouns of the third declension, which you can see in the answers to What did the Greeks and Romans call their pets?

I haven't yet found an example of a dog named in antiquity after a native Latin common noun in the third declension, but I would expect that nothing would prevent this, and the name would decline the same way as the common noun. The answer by cnread on that page does mention the name Ferōx from a Latin third-declension adjective. It also mentions Tigris which is from the non-native common noun used in Latin for tiger, tigress.

I'm not familiar with examples of ancient Latin speakers changing the declension class of a Latin common noun when it is used as a name; if that ever occurs, I would interpret it as a form of suffixation with a suffix consisting of the first- or second-declension theme vowel. If the form Rēxum existed as a name, the expected nominative form would be Rēxus, with no form of the name being plain Rēx. However, Rēxus and Rēxum are very unlikely to exist as forms derived in Latin because derivatives of rēx are built on the stem rēg-, not on the nominative singular form rēx (which ends in a nominative singular suffix -s). An example of a suffixed form that is apparently built on the stem of rēx is the second-declension name Rēgulus, with the diminutive suffix -ulus.

There is no single rule on how to decline a name borrowed from another language

Joonas's answer mentions that if we consider Rex as a modern English name, there are a few possibilities for adapting it to Latin. This is not a matter of how Latin works, but of conventions for adapting borrowings between different languages.

With the names of individual humans, a convention may be preferred that preserves as much as possible the recognizability of the name while allowing it to be declined according to a standard Latin declension pattern. This might be why many non-Latin names are adapted to forms ending in first-declension terminations (-a in the nominative singular) for a female name, or second-declension terminations (-us in the nominative singular) for a male name.

However, this is not a requirement and other declension patterns are attested for borrowings.

  • Regarding your second title: It's not really a question of whether the two languages have declension but whether they are compatible. Finnish has more cases than Latin, but I still wouldn't adapt any Finnish morphology to Latin. And the same goes for Russian and Latin although the two are much closer in declension. This doesn't undermine your argument at all; I just found the wording a little unfortunate.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 29, 2020 at 0:13

There is no consistent and globally accepted method to adapt foreign names to Latin. It was not even consistent for Greek names in a single classical book; see this question of adaptation of foreign names for details. Sometimes foreign names are used as indeclinable, sometimes substituted with a corresponding Latin, and sometimes simply decorated with an ending like -us. I recall hearing that the Finnish Latin news Nuntii Latini tried to follow the convention that the first appearance of any name was in its modern form for easy recognition but subsequent instances were latinized.

If a dog is named Rex, it makes sense to (in order of my preference)

  • treat it like the Latin noun rex,
  • see it as an indeclinable word which is Rex in all cases, or
  • attach a Latin ending and make it Rexus.

Both your options are fine, and so would be using simply Rex. It is not unusual for names to have several possible Latin versions.

I agree with the other answer that primarily Rex is the Latin word for "king" as that is the origin of the name. But if a dog owner insists that their dog is called Rex but it has nothing to do with kings — which is not unreasonable, as names have largely lost connection with their etymology — then this point of view can be reinforced by choosing another declension for the name.

  • 1
    I tend to disagree in this case, since this isn't a foreign name. When a name is a Latin noun, it seems natural to decline it as that noun. (Rexus especially feels wrong because the -x already contains the nom. sg. ending.)
    – TKR
    Nov 28, 2020 at 1:40
  • @Joonas llmavirta: Given that "king" was a dirty word to the Romans, would "Rex"/ "Rexus" have been used as a name?
    – tony
    Nov 28, 2020 at 15:44
  • @TKR I actually agree with your disagreement. I added a paragraph in the end to elaborate. There can be reasons to want to make a distinction between kings and the name. I agree that Rexus sounds wrong, but it would not be the first wrong-looking name formation I have ever seen in post-classical Latin.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 28, 2020 at 17:37
  • @tony I don't think it would have been used as a name in ancient Rome. It does not look like other names we know for humans, but I don't know much about naming dogs in Latin. I think by the time Rex became a name it did not refer to ancient kings of Rome but kings in general. If so, the Roman allergy to Etruscan kings would no longer play a role.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 28, 2020 at 17:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.