Over the course of some fourteen centuries, the Romans and other peoples of Italy employed a system of nomenclature that differed from that used by other cultures of Europe and the Mediterranean, consisting of a combination of personal and family names. Although conventionally referred to as the tria nomina, the combination of praenomen, nomen, and cognomen that have come to be regarded as the basic elements of the Roman name in fact represent a continuous process of development, from at least the seventh century BC to the end of the seventh century AD. The names developed as part of this system became a defining characteristic of Roman civilization, and although the system itself vanished during the early middle ages, the names themselves exerted a profound influence on the development of European naming practices, and many continue to survive in modern languages.
The three types of names that have come to be regarded as quintessentially Roman were the praenomen, nomen, and cognomen. Together, these were referred to as the tria nomina. Although not all Romans possessed three names, the practice of using multiple names having different functions was a defining characteristic of Roman culture that distinguished citizens from foreigners.