LawProse Lesson #120

LawProse Lesson #120

What are the rules for using the labels Jr., Sr., III, etc. in a name? Three traditional rules govern these labels (although often ignored in modern usage): 1. A son drops the Jr. label soon after his father dies — as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes did. But there are two exceptions to this rule. First, if the father was especially famous, the son may retain Jr. {Frank Sinatra Jr.} {Hank Williams Jr.}. (Holmes was unmoved by this rationale.) Second, a son who earns an honorary title, such as Dr., Admiral, etc., should drop Jr. even if his father is still alive because the title differentiates the two men, making Jr. unnecessary. The dropping of Jr. has long been considered proper form. But today many an octogenarian keeps the Jr., perhaps from a misplaced filial piety and the hope of preserving memories. Let no one doubt, however, what all the etiquette mavens have long said:
  • 1937: “At the death of his father, he is no longer junior.” Margery Wilson, Pocket Book of Etiquette 105 (1937).
  • 1938: “After the death of the father, the son drops the ‘junior’ from his name.” Mrs. Cornelius Beeckman, Common Sense in Etiquette 72 (1938).
  • 1955: “A man is ‘Mark Strand Jr.’ only while his father is alive and, of course, he bears his father’s exact name.” Nancy Loughridge, Dictionary of Etiquette 105 (1955).
  • 1963: “[A] man is ‘junior’ only while his father is alive and, of course, only if he bears the identical name.” Amy Vanderbilt, New Complete Book of Etiquette 594 (1963).
  • 1990: “Names are traditionally numbered only among the living.” Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millenium 60 (1990).
  • 2003: “When the father dies, the son usually drops the ‘Jr.’ within two years’ time, since there is no longer a confusion between the two men — unless, of course, the man is the son of a very famous man . . . .” Letitia Baldridge, Letitia Baldridge’s New Manners for New Times 653 (2003).
2. The names must be identical to use Jr. and Sr. So the second Bush president (George W. Bush) is not a junior because his father’s name is different (George Herbert Walker Bush). Yet for journalists and the public it has become common shorthand to use “George Bush Jr.” and “George Bush Sr.” for easy identification. 3. When a man shares a name with both his living father (Jr.) and his living grandfather (Sr.), he may adopt the label 3rd or III. If the grandfather dies first, the grandson becomes Jr. If the father dies before the grandfather, the grandson stays 3rd or III. After both the father and grandfather have died, the grandson drops all labels. Yet the issue that most often arises is punctuation: comma or no comma before Jr.? Journalists prefer omitting the comma — and this approach is logical because the label actually is restrictive. That is, the Jr. is a differentiator, not an appositive. Men who bear these labels, however, seem to prefer the comma. Although both forms are acceptable, LawProse’s in-house style is to omit the comma {Jack M. White Jr.}. Not only does the comma-less Jr. make possessives easier {Jack M. White Jr.’s book}, but it also looks cleaner. Strunk & White preferred it that way. So should you. Sources: William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White, The Elements of Style 3 (3d ed. 1979). The Chicago Manual of Style § 6.47 at 322-23 (16th ed. 2010). Garner’s Modern American Usage 555-56 (3d ed. 2009).

2 thoughts on “LawProse Lesson #120”

  1. Mr. Garner, let me begin by saying that I love your weekly usage tips. I find them very useful and informative. With regard to the one today on the proper usage of Sr., Jr. and III, there was one variation that you may have missed and that I wanted to ask you about. What about the person who is given the identical name as that of a blood relative not his father and is referred to as the 2nd or II? My brother is named after our great uncle. They have the identical name and, although our great uncle passed away many years ago, my brother still formally refers to himself as the II. My great uncle did have a degree of local notariety, so perhaps there is still some justification for my brother continuing to use “II.” However, I would appreciate your thoughts on this in light of today’s article. Thank you.

  2. Alexander A. Bove, Jr.

    ATTENTION: Mr. Bryan Garner

    Dear Mr. Garner,
    As a writer of sorts myself, I am always interested in reading your work whenever I see it. And I happened to see the piece you wrote recently on the rules for using “Jr”, “Sr.”, etc.
    While you stated the obvious rules that most would acknowledge, including keeping the Jr where the father “was especially famous”,  you did not address the opposite situation where the Jr in the family not only distinguishes himself from the father but also becomes known and recognized as, e.g., John Brown, JR., so that dropping the Jr. on his father’s death might cause the lay or professional public to confuse the two or take away from the proper recognition of the son, who has earned his recognition as a “Jr.”, even leading to the misconception that the son’s continued work is credited to the father. Thus, I think you should have recognized an exception in such a case.
    Your work is always thought provoking and entertaining. My compliments.
    Kind regards
    Alexander A. Bove, JR.

Comments are closed.

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