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Which of these two sentences is correct?

a) Mi nomen est Jan.

b) Mi nomen Jan est.

The word order of a Latin sentence is SOV, but I have found a) online, which is SVO.

Thank you.

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1 Answer 1

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Both are correct. Latin allows both word orders. The idea that Latin strictly and in every sentence follows Subject-Object-Verb word order is wrong; on the contrary, word order in Latin is relatively free and is used as a stylistic device, to stress individual words, and so on.

To say one's name, it is indeed common to use the possessive dative, as you have, although the form mi is rather rare in prose, and you are far more likely to see mihi. The name itself is often given in the nominative or the dative.

The Roman author and hobby linguist A. Gellius wrote a short piece on saying one's name, (Noctes Atticae, 15,29) where he says:

Duae istae in loquendo figurae notae satis usitataeque sunt: "mihi nomen est Iulius" et "mihi nomen est Iulio"

These two figures of speech are well-known and common enough: mihi nomen est Iulius and mihi nomen est Iulio

(He then goes on to describe a third option, using the name adjectively in agreement with nomen, which, however, seemed even to Gellius, a native speaker in the classical era, strange and noteworthy, so it would hardly appear sensible to emulate it.)

In your case it makes no difference, as Jan is presumably not declined. However, you could Latinize your name as Ioannes (or Joannes; a famous pope from the last century preferred that spelling), in that case you could say:

  • Mihi nomen est Ioannes.
  • Mihi nomen est Ioanni.

A. Gellius does not mention the option of using the genetive, but it is also attested.

As I said, you are not bound to this particular word order. For example, in Plautus we find:

  • nomen Mercurio est mihi (Amphitruo, Prologue)
  • nomen Arcturo est mihi (Rudens, Prologue)

but also:

  • mihi est Menaechmo nomen (Menaechmi 6,9)

and also, to add some indirect speech to the mix:

ceterum quantum lubet me poscitote aurum: ego dabo.
quid mihi refert Chrysalo esse nomen, nisi factis probo?

aside from that, ask as much gold of me as you like: I shall give it to you.
What use its it that my name is Chrysalus [from Greek χρυσός = gold] if I do not show it in my actions?

You can use any of these examples as a model (remarkably none of them has SOV word order, although that wouldn't be wrong either, e.g.: Nomina his Lucumo atque Arruns fuerunt, Livius: Ab urbe condita 1,34). The intuition which word order is possible and which works best in a given situation requires a lot of reading (personally I feel I have not nearly read enough to feel sure about it at all times). However, in a simple sentence like this, you have a lot of freedom.

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  • I completely rewrote this answer to focus on the phrase in question, not abstract considerations of word order. Dec 6, 2021 at 23:14
  • When you say "using the genitive' do you mean a possessive pronoun?
    – TKR
    Dec 6, 2021 at 23:18
  • @TKR no, I mean something like Mihi nomen est Iulii. Dec 6, 2021 at 23:34
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    Do you have an example of that usage? I'm surprised it's possible.
    – TKR
    Dec 7, 2021 at 0:14
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    @TKR The genitive is very rare in this usage but is sometimes attested: e.g. (...) fuit interim effugium legionibus in castra quibus Veterum nomen est. Tac. Hist. 4.18.3 (‘ and so the legions meanwhile were able to escape to the camp that was called Vetera.’). Cf. also Bassols de Climent's (1956: 68) Sintaxis latina: "En el giro mihi nomen est se puede expresar el nombre propio en nominativo (Antonius) o en genitivo (Antonii) o en dativo (Antonio)". However, your intuition is correct: the genitive Antonii is indeed very rare (if not impossible!) in the Classical period.
    – Mitomino
    Dec 7, 2021 at 3:11

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