Latinisation of names

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Latinisation is the practice of rendering a non-Latin name (or word)[1] in a Latin style. It is commonly met with for historical personal names, with toponyms, or for the standard binomial nomenclature of the life sciences. It goes further than romanisation, which is the writing of a word in the Latin alphabet that is in another script (e.g. Cyrillic).

In the case of personal names it may be done so as to more closely emulate Latin authors, or to present a more impressive image. It is carried out by:

  • transforming the name into Latin sounds (e.g. Geber for Jabir), or
  • translating a name with a specific meaning into Latin (e.g. Venator for Cacciatore, both mean ‘hunter’), or
  • choosing a new name based on some attribute of the person (e.g. Noviomagus for Daniel Santbech, possibly from the Latin name for the town of Nijmegen).

Personal names[edit]

Frontispiece of a 1743 legal text by Barnabé Brisson shows his name Latinised in the genitive Barnabae Brissonii (‘of Barnabas Brissonius’)

Humanist names, i.e. pen names assumed by Renaissance humanists, were very largely Latinised names, though in some cases (e.g. Melanchthon) they invoked Ancient Greek. The Latinisation in humanist names may consist of translation from vernacular European languages, involving a playful element of punning. Such names could be a cover for humble social origins.[2]

Latinisation is a common practice for scientific names. For example, Livistona, the name of a palm, is a Latinisation of "Livingstone".

Place names[edit]

Latinisation is also common for place names, as a result of many early text books mentioning the places being written in Latin. Because of this, the English language often uses Latinised forms of foreign place names instead of Anglicised forms or the original names.

Examples of Latinised names for countries or regions are:

  • Estonia (Estonian name Eesti, German/Scandinavian name Estland, i.e. "land of the Aesti")
  • Ingria (Finnish Inkerinmaa, German/Scandinavian Ingermanland', i.e. "land of the Ingermans - the local tribe)
  • Livonia (German/Scandinavian name Livland, i.e. "land of the Livs" - the local tribe)

Historical background[edit]

Until modern times it was common in most cultures[citation needed] to "translate" names into the language being used with little regard for the culture from which the name came. During the age of the Roman Empire, translation of names into Latin (in the West) or Greek (in the East) was common. Additionally, Greek substantives, particularly proper nouns, could easily be declined and Latinized with minimal modification of the original word.[3]

During the Medieval Period, following the collapse of the Empire in Western Europe, the main bastion of scholarship was the Roman Catholic Church, for whom Latin was the primary written language. Medieval priests, in fact, were almost exclusively the only scholars and scientists in Europe and, as a result, Latin became firmly established as the scholarly language for the West.[citation needed]

Though during modern times Europe has largely abandoned Latin as a scholarly language, a variety of fields still use Latin terminology as the norm and, by tradition, it is still common in some fields to name new discoveries in Latin. And because Western science became dominant during the 18th and 19th centuries, the use of Latin naming in many scholarly fields has gained worldwide acceptance, at least when European languages are being used for communication.

See also[edit]

  • Romanization, conversion of a text in Latin (or Roman) letters


  1. ^ "Latinize". 
  2. ^ "Group Identity Formation in the German Renaissance Humanists: The Function of Latin". Retrieved 2013-03-21. 
  3. ^ "Declension of Greek Substantives in Latin". Retrieved 2015-07-14. 
  • Nicolson, Dan H. (August 1974). "Orthography of Names and Epithets: Latinization of Personal Names". Taxon (International Association for Plant Taxonomy (IAPT)) 23 (4): 549–561. doi:10.2307/1218779. JSTOR 1218779.