I'm currently reading through Latin Via Ovid, and the dative of personal pronouns was introduced with some common phrases:

Quid nomen tibi est?

What is the name to you / What is your name?

Nomen mihi Adam est.

The name to me is Adam. / My name is Adam.

Is it more common in general to use dative personal pronouns rather than adjectives or the genitive of personal pronouns, or this something more common only in specific uses?

  • A possessive adjective tuum/meum might be an option in this case, but genitive tui/mei would not. Genitives of personal pronouns don't have possessive semantics -- they only occur in the objective and partitive genitive uses.
    – TKR
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 22:06

1 Answer 1


There is indeed a difference in meaning.

The dative is used to introduce the existence of something and assign it to a referent. Nomen mihi Adam est is a merger of two underlying ideas: I have a name, and that name is Adam. If you say Meum nomen Adam est, you are stressing who the name belongs to. In other words, "I am the one with the name of Adam" as opposed to other people. The word nomen in this case is already assumed to be part of the conversational landscape.

This is how Allen and Grenough expresses the difference:

  1. The Dative is used with esse and similar words to denote Possession:— “est mihi domī pater ” (Ecl. 3.33) , I have a father at home (there is to me). “ hominī cum deō similitūdō est ” (Legg. 1.25) , man has a likeness to God. quibus opēs nūllae sunt (Sall. Cat. 37), [those] who have no wealth. [*] Note.--The Genitive or a Possessive with esse emphasizes the possessor; the Dative, the fact of possession: as,—liber est meus, the book is MINE (and no one's else): est mihi liber, I HAVE a book (among other things).
  • I've always found this use of the dative with nomen odd. After all, it hardly needs stating that one has a name, so it isn't really parallel with Est mihi liber in "emphasizing the fact of possession".
    – TKR
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 2:14
  • @TKR How about thinking of it as something like: "Adam exists for me as a name." In many languages across different language families (e.g., Russian, Arabic, Japanese), the concepts English expresses with "to have" are expressed with constructions indicating existence. This is also apparent in the expressions for "there is/are" in French and Spanish which derive from habēo. ASL can use one sign for both meanings with "to have" as the iconic meaning. In such a case, using a possessive pronoun to say "my name is X" may not be good pragmatically, so you say: "Adam exists for me as a name." Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 18:35
  • That may be right and I don't have a better account, but (a) the pragmatics of Adam exists for me as a name seem different in that (insofar as such an utterance is plausible) Adam seems to be topic rather than focus, and (b) existential est is normally clause-initial and that isn't usually the case in this construction. I may be biased though by being a speaker of a language of the type you describe (Hebrew), in which the equivalent of Est mihi liber is the standard way to say "I have a book" but which can definitely not say the equivalent of Nomen mihi Adam est.
    – TKR
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 21:44
  • Thinking about this information-structurally, it seems that Adam has to be focused and either mihi or nomen can act as an introduced topic if it's clause-initial: so e.g. Mihi Adam est nomen "As for me, the name to/for me is Adam"; Nomen mihi est Adam "As for a name, the one to/for me is Adam". Some other nouns enter into the same construction: e.g. Ovid Met. 3.582-3 'nomen mihi' dixit 'Acoetes, patria Maeonia est'. I don't think this has the same kind of existential semantics as Est mihi liber.
    – TKR
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 21:55
  • 3
    @TKR the dative seems to be preferred with nouns that fall into the classes of relational or inalienable. Cf. Plautus: "Ampsigura mater mihi fuit, Iahon pater." In this instance, the word "nomen" isn't used, but the function of the statement is to introduce the parents' names. Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:14

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.