Onomastic systems as reflections of social practices? Pre-Roman Italy: the Oscan, Celtic, Venetic, and Etruscan data

Dominique Briquel, “Le système onomastique féminin dans les épigraphes de l’Italie préromaine”, in Sources. Travaux historiques n° 45-46, pp. 21-30, here pp. 21-23, in French in the text. Two things ought to be discussed: the link between social recognition and juridical recognition (see the works of Lin Foxhall) as well as the lack of consideration when it comes to the norms that rule the epigraphic practices studied in the article: indeed, these practices may be independent from the social practices that govern relations between men and women.

Latin and Oscan world: “In the Roman world the name of individuals is used not only for referring to them. The structure of a name contains information that goes beyond this straightforward, practical need for recognizing and for picking out: it is a marker of social status. Those with a modicum of training in Imperial Roman epigraphy are well aware of this: an individual referred to by the tria nomina—first name, gentilic name, and cognomen—is a citizen, while someone bearing only two names is not. Further down the social scale, mononymic designation is reserved to slaves. (…) From these examples [cited within the ellipsis] we note that a woman is designated by a single name that is, in the feminine, the name of the gens to which she belongs by birth. We encounter a Pacia, an Audia, a Lucia. In other words a woman, both in the Oscan and the Latin sphere, is only referred to by gentilic name. Thus she is devoid of what allows a man to be individualised within the family circle: a first name. Of course, and as is evident in the references to the father’s name in the latter two examples [in the ellipsis], men in the Oscan and the Latin world systematically receive a first name. Thus a woman is defined as belonging to a given gens, rather than as an autonomous individual. We should clarify that this name is that of her birth family, as was also the practice in Rome; no more than in Rome does a woman change her name for her husband’s through marriage. (…) What is fundamental and, one might say, juridically marked by the name, is that the mode of designating a woman (at least officially) is clearly distinct from the masculine address, with its two parts of praenomen and gentilic. Provided only with a gentilic name, a woman remains the property of her family group: this lack of recognised individuality obviously indicates her status as juridically inferior, although we do not have any direct information about this status.” pp. 22-23.

Celtic world: “Men and women share the same mode of denomination: by a first name, possibly followed by a patronym. Further, the two inscriptions that we have just studied, engraved on the same stone and corresponding to a double sepulchre, assuredly refer to a husband and his wife. We note from this engraving that nothing connects the wedded wife to her husband in terms of her name: the symmetry is total. This obviously encourages us to interpret this fact as a marker of greater autonomy for women, particularly in contradistinction to a system of the Latin or Oscan type. We expect to find such autonomy across the Celtic world: as mediaeval insular literature indicates, the Celtic woman retains complete ownership of her belongings when she marries. However, we should remain careful when applying this onomastic criterion to draw conclusions as regards the place of woman in society without any other documentation, particularly of the juridical kind.” p. 25.

Venetic world: “It appears that the reference to a man, who may be the father, the husband, or both, becomes a rule of sorts. Juridically, we may interpret the situation as follows: statutorily; the woman remains a minor. In a phrase taken from Roman law, she is under the manus of her father before marriage; under the manus of her husband thereafter. The presence of the same onomastic system of first name + patronym (until marriage replaces a woman’s patronym with her gamonym) should not lead to the conclusion that men and women were statutorily equal in any way.” p. 27.

Etruscan world: “The reference to the husband’s name only appears within [the] expanded, supplementary, and facultative part of an onomastic designation. We see that a woman’s name is intrinsically characterised by complete independence from her husband’s. This confirms the impression given by the perfect structural similarity between feminine and masculine onomastics [first name + gens]. This suggests at least that women may be granted a greater role in the Etruscan world in comparison to other societies where onomastic data differ, such as the Oscan and the Latin spheres. We find a parallel to this in a unique feature in Ancient Italy, one that is exclusive to the Etruscans and that once again denotes particular attention to the feminine element.  Beside the patronymic reference […] one frequently encounters a matronymic reference: thus individuals are often linked with their mother and not (or not only) their father.” p. 29.

Onomastic system and gender relations: the simplifications, stakes, and dangers of comparison: was there ever a single onomastic system for “Greek women”?

“On the one hand, onomastics are insufficient to prove that the Etruscan woman benefited from a privileged position within society in contrast to her Latin or Oscan counterparts. On the other, we have access to plenty of clues, drawn from other areas of study, that suggest the same thing: the figurative representations of Etruscan women sitting in on banquets beside their husbands or attending the same games; the historical (or pseudo-historical) role of an Etruscan woman such as Tanaquil […] Clearly, the Tuscan woman enjoyed a higher degree of autonomy than Greek or Roman women; and, clearly, the husbands of the latter were shocked by that autonomy”. pp. 29-30.


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