Over a year ago I got David Abulafia’s The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean (see this post), and after setting it aside for many months I’ve picked it up again (by which I mean “I’ve started clicking on that link on my Kindle”) and have gotten to his discussion of the Punic Wars. Checking his footnotes led me to Unplanned Wars: The Origins of the First and Second Punic Wars, 247-183 B.C. by Dexter Hoyos, which this review of his follow-up, Hannibal’s Dynasty: Power and Politics in the Western Mediterranean, 247-183 B.C., calls “crucial.” I’m not about to spring for it ($184.48, 12 new from $152.42, 10 used from $94.39!), but I was glad to be able to read this bit via “Look inside,” because it explains a striking fact about Punic names:

Surnames did not exist, and the Punic elite, for its own good reasons, used a remarkably narrow range of available personal names. Hanno, Hasdrubal, Hannibal, Himilco and Hamilcar are frustratingly common. Adherbal, Bomilcar, Carthalo, Gisgo, and Mago account for nearly everybody else. The Punic commander who sailed to Ostia in 279 to offer the Romans help against Pyrrhus was a Mago; so too one of the great Hannibal’s brothers. In 264 alone, the known Punic commanders were a Hannibal, a Hanno, and a Hanno son of Hannibal. During the Roman siege of Agrigentum in 262-261, this second Hanno is later found cooperating as general with a Hannibal who may (or may not) be the same Hannibal as in 264. Three or four further Hannos, two more Hannibals and two Hamilcars appear between 261 and the war’s end. These officers account for well over half the senior Carthaginians that we know of. Yet it would be rash to suppose that we are looking at a group of blood relations.

Addendum. And I just ran across this in Abulafia:

Hamilcar was responsible for the foundation of Akra Leuke, generally agreed to lie under modern Alicante, and around 227 BC Hasdrubal was inspired to found a city further south along the coast and even closer to the sources of silver. The Carthaginians were strangely uncreative when naming people and places; there were countless Hannibals and Hasdrubals. Hasdrubal named his new city just that: ‘New City’, Qart Hadasht [i.e., the same name as Carthage itself], now known as Cartagena, though, since the time of Polybios, historians, to avoid confusion with the mother-city, have often called it New Carthage, ‘New New City’.

(For redundancy in names, see this ancient LH post.)


  1. Bill Walderman says

    For a factually accurate account of exactly what went on in Carthage, try reading this:
    Note the last paragraph under “Noted quotations and episodes:
    “in reality Hanno was not crucified by the mercenaries; there was a Carthaginian general captured and crucified, but his name was Hannibal, and [Flaubert] felt this would have confused his readers.”

  2. Steven Lubman says

    I thought that Hannibal’s family name was Barca.

  3. It means ‘Thunderbolt’ (baraq, buraq ‘lightning’), but we don’t know if it was applied to Hannibal the Great only, or whether it was a family name.
    Anyway, this shortage of given names is not much worse than the Roman shortage: Wikipedia gives a complete list of male praenomina with less than forty names, of which only about a dozen were common: Aulus, Gaius, Gnaeus, Lucius, Manius, Marcus, Publius, Quintus, Servius, Sextus, Tiberius, Titus. A few others were common only in certain families, as Appius among the Claudians.

  4. dearieme says

    For redundancy in names consider Ardtornish Point, meaning (apparently) Thor’s point point point.

  5. Bill Walderman says

    Roman onomastics were more complicated. In Rome, no one used the praenomen, except perhaps close family members, and eventually, in the imperial period, elite men stopped using it altogether. Men were known by their nomen, the gentile (clan) name or their cognomen, the sub-clan name. Marcus Tullius Cicero, for example, would be known as either Tullius (nomen) or Cicero (cognomen). The three-name system became more complicated, especially in the imperial period, as people acquired longer and longer strings of agnomina and abandoned the praenomen completely. Women in the Republican era were known by the feminine form name of their fathers’ name.
    Koreans seem to have a very limited set of surnames. And in French Canada, there are apparently a few names that are extremely widespread: Tremblay, Ouellett, etc.

  6. SFReader says

    —Women in the Republican era were known by the feminine form name of their fathers’ name.
    Cornelia Gracchus was commonly referred by Romans as “daughter of Scipio” (famous Roman general Scipio Africanus, victor of Hannibal).
    She immensely disliked this naming convention and used to say that she wanted to be known not as “daughter of Scipio, but rather as a mother of Gracchi”(Roman revolutionary politicians)
    Roman customs did not allow this, of course. But interestingly, Korean women are called exactly like that – by name of their eldest son

  7. Well, Futurama takes place in New New York.
    One may also argue that a housing project in Tel Aviv called “New Tel Aviv” is a double-juvination, “Tel Aviv” being the Hebrew (archaic, and quite creatively divergent) translation of the title to Herzl’s book Altneuland, “Old-New Land”. Aviv, meaning “spring”, being the new part.

  8. John Emerson says

    This happens in Mongol history too. In the Secret History two Gur Qans, two Quyildars, and two To’orils show up on the same page (three different pages). And the Albigensians in “The Yellow Cross” mostly seemed to have the same few names.

  9. John Emerson says

    I have read that something like two thirds of Chinese have one of ten surnames, and that there are a total of about 400 that are at all common. (
    “The Hundred Names” is a catch phrase meaning “all the different families”; it’s not strictly accurate. In early China the Hundred names meant the aristocracy, the only ones with surnames, but as time went on everyone got names.

  10. @Bill Walderman: It seems to me that living here in central Massachusetts gives one a passable survey of all the common French Canadian names – I’ve known Tremblays, Ouellett(e)s, Bergerons, Benoits, Dions… even Desjardins and Destroismaisons, which, though less common, also seem to be distinctive to North America. Unfortunately, these names are almost always subject to horrendously anglicized pronunciations even on the part of their users.

  11. marie-lucie says

    Korean women are called … – by name of their eldest son
    This is probably a remnant of a “matrilineal” system. Among some Native American peoples, young parents are addressed formally as ‘father’ or ‘mother of (their child’s name, or just “baby”)’: by becoming parents they have achieved full adult status. (Naming practices vary widely among different groups – keeping the same name throughout one’s life, like Western men at least, is far from universal).

  12. Unfortunately, these names are almost always subject to horrendously anglicized pronunciations even on the part of their users.
    I personally enjoy those anglicized pronunciations, and when I get the chance I remind people that the great infielder Nap Lajoie pronounced his name “Lashaway.”

  13. I certainly enjoyed hearing a brand-new teacher address one of my high-school classmates 40+ years ago as ‘Sharl Day-zhar-DAHN’ and hearing him reply “that’s Charlie DESS-Jar-dins, ma’am”. It wasn’t in a French class, either, since I didn’t take French in high school.

  14. marie-lucie says

    Where I grew up there was a noble family called d’Olliamson (where am = Fr an). I was told that this name came from an ancestor called Williamson who had come (perhaps fled) to France in the 18th century, probably from Ireland. He held, or acquired, the title of “marquess”.
    The last scion of this family lived in a small castle, but he had not inherited it: decades before, he had married the daughter of a wealthy local businessman, and the castle (built by her father) was part of her inheritance. This lady, who was known as “la marquise”, was somewhat older than my parents, and she (or her father) seemed to have followed the Old Regime custom (still widely practiced before WW1) of rich commoners trying to marry their daughters to penniless noblemen, thus trading money for social ascension.

  15. SFReader says

    Checked some genealogical records and found that family of counts d’Olliamson is derived from Thomas Williamson, an archer in the Scots Guard in France in 1495, who obtained property there, and ca. 1506 married Marguerite, heiress of Guillaume Raolt, seigneur of Mesil Hermey.

  16. CuConnacht says

    Arab women can be known by the name of their eldest son: Umm Sonsname But so can Arab men, Abu Sonsname, so it presumably has nothing to do with any previous matrlineal system.

  17. des von bladet says

    Among some Native American peoples, young parents are addressed formally as ‘father’ or ‘mother of (their child’s name, or just “baby”)
    This is also the convention on the playground in front of my house. It’s a good system!

  18. So, the founder married up for money, and the last heir married down, also for money. Rags to riches to rags.

  19. At my grandson’s preschool I am known as Grampa even to the teachers.

  20. marie-lucie says

    des, JC: I know, but this form of address does not last beyond the preschool years! But the “juvenization” of society, who knows?

  21. des von bladet says

    If my son is in school (which he is) does that mean I’m not a young Native American parent anymore, then?

  22. We’re none of us young any more, des. Except for David M., and he’s deserted us.

  23. marie-lucie says

    David M. has a habit of disappearing for a while and then reappearing. I wouldn’t give up on him.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    Just as one data point, the neighbor boy who used to consistently refer to me as FIRSTBORN-CHILD’S-FIRST-NAME’S DADDY (even in contexts where that child wasn’t present and, indeed, even in contexts where my younger child was present instead) switched over to MR. SURNAME at the age of perhaps 6 or 7.

  25. dearieme says

    Take heart from using a school where the children know who their daddies are.

  26. marie-lucie says

    Arab women can be known by the name of their eldest son: Umm Sonsname But so can Arab men, Abu Sonsname, so it presumably has nothing to do with any previous matrlineal system.
    In the case of Arab culture, probably not, since this naming custom applies to both mothers and fathers (this equality in the culture is unusual in itself). But it appears that in Korea this only applies to mothers.
    Matrilineality does not imply matriarchy (mothers’ power): the power belongs to the mother’s brother, and on his death will be passed on to his nephew, not to his son as in patrilineality/patriarchy.

  27. Tom Recht says

    It means ‘Thunderbolt’ (baraq, buraq ‘lightning’)
    I’d always assumed this name was from the Semitic root brk and meant “blessed” (Baruch, Mubarak, etc.), but John is right, of course. One of the Barcas gave his name to Barcelona (Latin Barcino).

    I was at one time known as FIRSTBORN-CHILD’S-FIRST-NAME-LAST-INITIAL’S DAD; there were two children in that pre-kindergarten class with the same somewhat unusual first name.

  29. Jean-Michel says

    Koreans seem to have a very limited set of surnames.
    Certainly the most common Korean names are very common, though Vietnamese has it beat: the two most common Vietnamese surnames (Nguyễn and Trần) account for the same proportion of the population (about 50%) as the top four Korean surnames (金 Kim, 李 Lee, 朴 Park, 崔 Choi). Maybe this is why Vietnamese are rarely referred to by their surname alone, as opposed to Korean and Chinese where the practice is normal despite the surfeit of Kims and Zhangs.
    That said, one mitigating factor in Latin-alphabet texts is that Korean surnames, like Chinese, have multiple romanizations–on the extreme end, there are over half a dozen romanizations of “Lee” (Li, Yi, E, Ee, Ri, Rhee, etc.), and even Korean itself has two variants (northern 리 Ri and southern 이 I). Vietnamese names (which are normally written with the Latin alphabet in Vietnam itself) rarely show that same variety, beyond the dropping of diacritical marks in most non-Vietnamese texts.

  30. Further on, I believe, in the Abulafia is a discussion of (medieval) British insularity and directly borrowing place names:
    “England’s isolation was shown by the report of some merchants at the Papal Court that England was to be annexed by Spain. In fact, it was the Canary Islands – ‘Islas Fortunas’ in Spanish – but the merchants thought there were no fortunate isles except Britain.’
    Incidentally, I read John Julius Norwich’s The Middle Sea straight after the Abulafia, and thought it was well worth a read. (I didn’t find too many overlaps or redundancies, which was a bonus).

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