I'd originally asked this on SE:H, but it was suggested that here would be more appropriate.

Triggered by recently reading about the history of English names with Anglo-Saxon roots and the development of diminutive forms, I'd started wondering:

What do we know about hypocorism/diminutive name forms in Latin names in Roman antiquity? Or to use a modern analogue, if friends and family call William and Harold, Will (or even Willie?) and Harry, then did friends and family of Romans like Julius Caesar, in private, use forms like (pure speculation here) ... cull for Caius -> Caiulus -> cullus -> cull.

Note, I'm not talking about "nicknames" here, known in Roman times as cognomen, so not names like cicero, niger, ahenobarbus, etc.

As per Wikipedia

A hypocorism, from Ancient Greek ὑποκόρισμα (hypokorisma), from ὑποκορίζεσθαι (hypokorizesthai), meaning 'to use child-talk' is a diminutive form of a name. Hypocorisms include pet names or calling names, often a, diminutive or augmentative form of a word or given name when used as a nickname or term of endearment

I tried doing some research, first into given names in Latin, of which lists are plentiful. We're all familiar with Marcus, Lucius, Caius, Claudia, and so on.

Then reading up on diminutive word forms in Latin. Many will know about the -ulus/-ula forms, but this interesting link lists others used in the language: The Formation of Latin Diminutives of Nouns and Adjectives

On English names the article Behind the Name – Diminutive explains

A diminutive (or pet name) of a given name is a short and/or affectionate form. Often they are only used by friends and relatives.

Short forms

The most common diminutives (at least among English names) are those that are short forms of the original name, very often from the first syllable or sound of the name. For example, Alex is from Alexander, Barb is from Barbara, Deb is from Deborah, and Mike is from Michael. Other short forms don't come from the beginning of the name, but instead from the end or the middle, like Beth from Elizabeth, Fred from Alfred, Greta from Margareta, and Lisa from Elisabeth.

But nowhere could I find anything that would show pet names used in ancient Rome. Did Romans really always use the full given name, and maybe with the Latin diminutive form? The link above states that -ill- and -tt-

[are] found used only with feminine names, but it could theoretically also be used with others words, e.g. a masculine form of Līvilla would be Līvillus.

So, Caesar's mum called him Caius and maybe Caiulus, but no known pet name form of Caius? Was Marcus Ulpius Traianus never called Marc (or at least the appellative form Marce?) Seeing as how Romans abbreviated inscriptions, could we end up with M.Ulp.Trai. as Mulpe among very close friends or at least before Trajan was raised to office and emperorship?

The detailed Wiki article on Roman naming conventions makes note that

Roman men were usually known by their praenomina to members of their family and household, clientes and close friends; but outside of this circle, they might be called by their nomen, cognomen, or any combination of praenomen, nomen, and cognomen that was sufficient to distinguish them from other men with similar names. In the literature of the Republic, and on all formal occasions, such as when a senator was called upon to speak, it was customary to address a citizen by praenomen and nomen; or, if this were insufficient to distinguish him from other members of the gens, by praenomen and cognomen.

and on the cognomen

Unlike the nomen, which was passed down unchanged from father to son, cognomina could appear and disappear almost at will. They were not normally chosen by the persons who bore them, but were earned or bestowed by others, which may account for the wide variety of unflattering names that were used as cognomina. Doubtless some cognomina were used ironically, while others continued in use largely because, whatever their origin, they were useful for distinguishing among individuals and between branches of large families. New cognomina were coined and came into fashion throughout Roman history.

But while the former indicates that there was Marcus but no Marc, the latter (with my emphasis) indicates that it's unlikely even his closest friends and family (such as they were) would have called Nero... well, Nero to his face!

Are there no Latin hypocoric name forms similar to William -> Bill, Richard -> Dick, Ann -> Nancy, Helen -> Nellie?

  • I can't find any evidence of shortened names in the corpus but I did stumble upon a longstanding academic debate about the name ipsitilla in Catullus 32, a probable diminutive superlative of ipsa and, therefore, a term of endearment (albeit facetious in tone). Is this sort of what you're after? Or do you only want shortened names?
    – Penelope
    Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 9:26

2 Answers 2


I have never heard of such hypocoric variants of Roman names. It has hard to prove non-existence, so we will have to wait to see if others agree. If no user here has heard of something, it has very slim — but admittedly non-zero — chances to exist.

One noteworthy thing about Roman praenomina is that there is not much room for abbreviation. The Roman given names are relatively short, having often one syllable for the stem and another one for the ending. Latin is an inflected language and dropping endings will not work quite the same way it does in English. If Caius becomes Cull (a more likely spelling would have been Cul), how do you form the genitive, dative, or accusative? It doesn't sound like any simplification to me to turn the second declension Caius, Caii to a third declension Cul, Cullis.

Also, I wouldn't draw too deep conclusions from abbreviations in inscriptions. Space was far more expensive than today. Of course it is possible that some would read them as M. Ulp. Trai. > Mulpus, but I imagine that would have come across as mockery rather than affection.

  • It's almost amazing to me that we have no record of this. With human nature being what it is, you'd think there'd be some form of pet names. Possibly in the vulgar, which we have so few records of? But I don't recall anything in Petronius either, who used a few snippets.
    – user1968
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 9:40
  • 1
    @Marakai Affectionate address need not have anything to do with the names. For example, you could call William "honey" instead of "Bill". Our written evidence is limited, but as far as I know, it contains no hints at affectionate variants of Roman names.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 10:14
  • 2
    @Marakai Unless I'm mistaken, all pet-names, regardless of shortening or not, are hypocorism. "Sweetie-pie" is hypocorism. See the "Did you know?" section on M-W.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 15:58
  • 1
    After long last decided to accept this one as at least an explanation of why we do NOT see this.
    – user1968
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 22:39
  • 1
    @Marakai Questions like this are tricky in that respect. If the answer is that something doesn't exist, it's very hard to prove it conclusively.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 22:49

The only example I can think of is with Catellus and Lesbia (Clodia?) but I wouldn't be surprised if hypocorism wasn't wide spread though for a few reasons:

  • Ancient Roman culture was considerably different with very different morals and if you consider the population of Rome divided up between slaves (basically objects rather than people so did their names even matter?), non-citizens (probably foreign and have non-Roman names, or adopted cognomina), plebeians and the equestrian and patrician classes, it seems to me that a person's name was very important in identifying themselves in society (especially for equestrians and patricians if they entered into public life) so Roman citizens were probably very proud of them and it likely wasn't the sort of thing that most Romans subscribed to out of respect.

  • The use of cognomina (and that nouns in Latin decline) also suggests to me that if Romans did use hypocorism, it would be more like in the Catallus' / Lesbia situation where a person's cognomina would be replaced with one more flattering rather than their praenomina being shortened.

  • I think it would also more likely to have been the domain of artists and poets who didn't have more important things to do.

  • 1
    Can you explain your example?
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 15:19
  • The poet Gaius Valerius Catullus wrote a number of poems in which he refers to a women named "Lesbia" (thought to be Clodia Metelli his lover and a married woman). The name Lesbia roughly translates as 'Women from Lesbos' which is an affectionate name typical of hypocorism considering he could have picked any other name to use in his poems if he simply wanted to just distance himself from her... Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 15:39
  • 2
    So, a couple things. I believe the OP is specifically looking for shortening, for which this would not fit. Also, Lesbia is certainly not a "pet-name." One, he uses the name all throughout the Lesbia cycle, even when he's bad-mouthing or slandering her. There's no way we can conclude that it's anything more than an allusion to Sappho (who was a woman from Lesbos) working as a pseudonym for Clodia. Following your logic, we would have to conclude that Lesbius from c. 79 is also a pet-name for Clodius Pulcher, which cannot be right.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 15:55
  • 2
    I appreciate the answer, but it does seem a bit speculative and based on opinion. In your example my first though would have been "alias" to protect the identity of the woman in question. Not what you would associate with a pet name.
    – user1968
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 9:37

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