Got into a name thing with a Facebook friend (Iggy Antiochus if you gotta know) and decided to post about it.
The English name Terence comes from the Roman playwright Terentius. It wasn't my birth first name, Douglas is, but I got it when adopted at about six months old. Well hell, it wasn't Terentius' birth name either, how about that. Wasn't even his first name, ever! Hell he wasn't even Roman!
Here's the deal. My namesake was born around 185 or 195 BC, in or around Carthage, or else to a woman in Greek speaking Italy (yeah, they spoke more Greek than Latin in Rome back then, it was the cultural language) who was sold into slavery in or around Carthage. He himself was sold as a slave to a Roman senator named Publius Terentius Lucanus, who brought him to Rome, gave him an education, and then, apparently impressed with the result, freed him.
OK Romans had three names. First comes the praenomen, which means your first name, or given name as it is called. Second comes the nomen, aka the nomen gentile or sometimes the gentilicium, which by whichever designated the clan, or gens, from which one came. Third and last comes the cognomen, which designates your family within the clan. This structure is even older than the Romans, who got it from the Etruscans before them.
But that's Romans, not slaves or kids of slaves who become slaves themselves. Nobody knows what Terentius' birth name was, but it wasn't Terence, sure as hell. His name reflects his status as a Roman citizen, upon being freed. So he took the praenomen Publius, meaning "public", which was one of the relatively few first names, which was also his former master's first name, and took the clan name of his master, Terentius, and for a last name to distinguish his family within the clan, took Afer, since he was not a blood Terentius but from Afer.
Afer, what the hell is that, sounds like Africa. Yeah it does and for good reason. Africa now means the whole continent, but in Terence' lifetime it meant the land of the Libyan tribe the Afri, who hung in and around Carthage, in modern Tunisia but which was founded as a Phoenician colony in 814 BC, or so the Romans said. But when the Romans trashed Carthage in 146 BC, by which time Terence had been dead several years, the Carthaginians themselves were called Punic, a reference to Carthage's Phoenician origin, and Afri came to mean the Libyan Berbers around them.
So hard telling. He may have been a Berber, although that use of Afri is just a little later than his lifetime, or he may have been Afri, who according to Flavius Josephus, the great Roman historian, were descendants of Abraham's grandson Epher, hence the name, or he may have been none of the above and who knows what, since when you're a slave you don't get a hell of a lot of choice about where you end up.
Afer as a Roman cognomen meant people who whatever else were from in or around Carthage, but doesn't clarify whether he was from there originally, and if so was he Afri or something else, or was something else and got brought there.
So we got a guy whose birth name and people are not known, who was sold as a slave but treated well and educated, and when freed took his former master's praenomen or given name, his clan name, within which he was distinguished by his Cathaginian/Tunisian origins at least with regard to the Roman world.
Now, when I was adopted, my new mom wanted to name me Cornelius Steven, but my new dad wanted Terence James. Dad won. Which is unusual twice over. For one thing generally moms get naming rights, and for another the usual RC practice in those days was to name a kid after one of the saints. So here's my dad naming me after a pagan Roman playwright and the RCC took it, so I was baptised at Holy Name By God Cathedral in Chicago.
My adoptive parents were of Irish-American stock, which completes both the irony and the fittingness of the name Terence for me. I learned later, from seeing the adoption papers among my parents' stuff after they died, my original name. Douglas John, and the last name, Clutterham, is English, from the Suffolk area specifically, making me an Angle by descent.
So I get a first name from a guy whose first name it wasn't! Which is OK, you don't hear Publius much these days. And neither that Terence nor this one started out with the name, or came from the people who gave him that name (he wasn't Roman and I ain't Irish), but got names that look like it by, as they say in insurance, major life event. He by being freed from slavery and made a Roman, me by being adopted. I doubt Dad was thinking of all that, but he did know the correct spelling to give me, which, the original being Terentius, is Terence. No double damn r.
It's all good. Later in life, when I fell in with the Puerto Rican student community at university and they, saying I thought like them (which is crap English btw, should be, thought as they), culturally adopted me, so to speak, well, there ain't no Terence in Spanish, so I was dubbed with an honorific neologism, El Teraco.
And totally in tune with what was to come, namely, the great gift of the Christian faith, as revealed in Scripture and accurately confessed in the Book of Concord. Luther admired the plays of Terence and quoted them a lot, and thought they were good for kids to learn in their educational formation.
Ain't that a kick? My first Lutheran pastor once said -- not sure if he was joking or not -- that my growing up in Minnesota and going to a Bavarian Benedictine founded school and picking up German and the whole German thing was God's way of getting me to be ready to be Lutheran, so I could lapse into German when ranting. But right there at the RC baptismal font, I was given the name of a Roman playwright Luther admired!
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