Anglification of Latin names

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Suarez, May 15, 2019.

  1. Suarez

    Suarez Well-Known Member

    Every once in a while my eye catches what I think are outdated or non-standard forms of Latin names of Roman emperors (and empresses) and wonder if people are writing them like this from habit or reading old references or just making them up as they go along. But the grand revelation I just realized is that there is no real rule at play, it's all arbitrary and no one way right or wrong.

    I used to think that the rule (sez who?) was that Latin names were anglicized when the root of the name was still in use. That explains why in English we turn Constantinus into "Constantine" and say Hadrian instead of Hadrianus. But this rule breaks down quickly because you never see "Gallien" rather than Galilenus and you absolutely never see Claudius turned into Claude. Extreme anglification would result in some comical transformations like "Antony Pius", "Commode" and, heh, "Tit".

    Still I see people often still writing names like Domitianus or Maximianus when those suffixes have gone out of style by World War II at least. Altogether we sit on the conservative side between the German purists, who rarely change the old form names, and the Romance languages which feel free to make new names altogether. Nero becomes Nerone in Italian, Aemilian turns to Émilien in French and the absolutely egregious Spanish conversion from Iohannes to "Juan"!

    Pet peeves anyone?
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  3. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Speaking of Spanish: Constans = Constante
  4. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    I think it should be Antoniny Pius!

    Sometimes I think that the use of names like Antony, Pliny instead of Antonius and Plinius in English, or Julie or Valerien in French instead of Julia and Valerianus has something ingratiating about it, makes them small and is not commensurate with the historical dignity of these persons.

  5. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    My pet peeve is people of today, PhD's and first year Latin students, who judge each other on matters of pronunciation as if they actually knew the universal truth and it was more important than understanding other points of history. In some cases we may know something about pronunciation as, for example, Cicero may have practiced it but that does not mean much across the entire Romulus to Augustulus span. Yes, I know my man Septimius Severus had a Punic accent but I will not insist on or reject those who say Sheptimius Sheverus but do draw the line at calling him Shemp (Shemp was the fourth of the Three Stooges - or was he second?). Slavish insistence on 'proper' spelling and pronunciation was a product of Nineteenth century British elitist to set themselves apart from the unwashed masses. Get over it. While I will never warm up to the Italians changing every Roman name when they can walk outside and see all those Latin inscriptions, I will prefer that we spend our efforts learning the difference between Maximianus and Galerius and not sweat the presence or absence of the -us.

    It all of a sudden struck me that "Shemp" might have approved calling Pescennius "Pesky" but for the fact that the word was not used until 1775. :pompous:
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
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  6. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector

    In German there is "no rule" either. Constantine is spelled Konstantin, instead of Caesar you sometimes see Cäsar, but usually it is the pronunciation that gets adapted, not so much the spelling. And as long as people understand who you write or talk about, big deal ...

    In Italian the names are at least constant. In other languages they are even adapted like other nouns (for example, Nero is Neron in Polish, but can also be Nerona, Neronem etc.). Then again, that is the good old Latin way too. :)

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  7. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Hey! Check out this sestert of Tony Pius!

    Antoninus Pius Annona Sestertius.jpg

    And don't forget his son-in-law, Mark:

    Marcus Aurelius LIBERAL AVG V COS III denarius.jpg
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  8. Ken Dorney

    Ken Dorney Yea, I'm Cool That Way...

    My pet peeve is with those who insist they know exactly how an ancient and dead language was pronounced. The truth is that we know essentially nothing about pronunciation. Both my parents spoke very differently than I do (and from each other as well).

    He was the second and the fourth!
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  9. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector

    Hmm, a little more than nothing we know. :) Partly from how Latin names were written in Greek, partly from ancient Latin poetry, partly from explicit "hints" by ancient rhetorics experts ... Even misspelled graffiti sometimes help.

    But yes, it's much like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. When I went to school, we had a Latin teacher who wanted Caesar and Cicero to be pronounced like ka-ay-sar and kee-ke-row while the history teacher at the same time (in German) used tsay-sar and tsee-tse-row. Again, what counts is that people can communicate without misunderstandings ... and without too much giggling maybe. ;)

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  10. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    I have the same pet peeve about people "correcting" roman numerals. I taught my son correctly that forty could be XL or it could be XXXX. He wrote this on a paper and the teacher marked it as wrong. I gave him a coin minted in Rome to prove it and followed up with a call to the teacher.

    The Romans were more open to their writing in many cases, and I am sure you are right Doug that 19th century elitists created the only "proper" way, (to them), of what the rules are. How do you do that when the Romans themselves never followed those rules?
  11. Bert Gedin

    Bert Gedin Well-Known Member

    Sheptimius Sheverus IV ?
  12. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    If you get a really hard case Roman numeral freak, show them the Tiberius with 38 as XXXIIX. I really wanted one of those but mine of the type is a year earlier and XXXVII.
  13. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    A few years ago an English coin collector came to my coin dealer and asked him wether he was interested in a coin from You-lie-sis. This met with a complete lack of understanding. Then he showed his coin: It was a republican denarius with Odysseus!!

    He had chosen the Latin name Ulysses for Odysseus and pronounced it as You-lie-sis in the usual English way.

    This shows that a uniform language is good if you want to communicate. This is the reason why High German, actually an artificial language, has prevailed over the many Lower and Upper German dialects as a unified language. The same applies to Italian.

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  14. Suarez

    Suarez Well-Known Member

    Curious to hear about what happened when the teacher got showed up on XL vs XXXX :hilarious:
  15. Trebellianus

    Trebellianus VOT II MVLT III

    Incidentally, how come the obscure Valerius Severus is known to posterity as "Severus II" when he was clearly Severus III, after Shemp Severus and Alexander Severus? Or he was even Severus IV (or is that Severus IIII?) if you add Mark Aurelius Severus Tony Pius as well.

    More broadly, the jumble of names handed down to us makes no sense whatsoever, but at the same time has a rather powerful, instinctual appeal (to me, anyway) -- my mind instinctively recoils from "Trajanus" and etc. I'm grateful we speak today of Cicero and not "Tully", though.
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
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  16. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    She was pissed about being proven wrong, but she "kind of knew me" and knew I would not let it lie if she refused to correct his test. She gave him the points with no additional comment. I thought she could use it as a teaching moment, and teach the kids the truth, and not what her textbook said, but she ignored it.
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  17. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    I think we sometimes get the impression that Latin was universally spoken the same way throughout the empire. This was most certainly not the case and we do know this from the Roman writers themselves. Also we have accounts from Latin grammarians themselves - especially about pronunciation. We know that Romans in rural areas had certain accents that differed from the city of Rome. We know this because of accounts where country farmers were made fun of. Claudius tried to have 2 new letters introduced into the Latin language in order to keep certain sounds pure - with little success. Vespasian's Latin accent was ridiculed and he hailed from nearby Rieti.
    To complicate matters of pronunciation, we are often taught classical Latin pronounced V's like W's and the diphthong AE was pronounced like "eye". This is an oversimplification, since we know that the AE "eye" sound coexisted with an AY sound by early imperial times. we know this from some of the Romans themselves. Some coins show this as well - there is a small minority of Judaea Capta sestert. spelled IVDEA - with the AY sound. The name Caesar may have been pronounced "K-eye-sar , by some and Kaysar by others. Anyone who drives around Italy today can still experience this language diversity.
    Vulgar Latin was not some later version, but was the common street language which gave rise to the romance languages. It is as old as classical Latin. Its grammatical structures are different (and most people will argue simpler as well).
  18. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Well said. Linguistic regional variation sometimes called language variation is a socio-linguistic phenomenon. You are correct in stating that this variation is seen in pronunciation or accent, the lexicon, and grammar. All you have to do is listen to the speech of someone from upstate New York versus someone from Boston. Naturally some accents, word choices, and grammatical structures are more valued than others (consider British RP or received pronunciation versus the speech of those in the East end of London). This leads to a social stratification along linguistic lines. It is not hard to imagine the same thing happening 2000 years ago in ancient Rome.
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