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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: Can You Use a Suffix if a Generation Was Skipped?

Amie writes:
I have been a loyal reader of your blogs for several years now & am finally expecting our first on August 4th! The thing is - we already have his name picked out - Edward Joseph Surname.

My question to you is this:

My husband wants to name him Edward Joseph Surname, III because both his dad & grandfather share the name. I've been told people's opinions on the matter but am unable to verify if this is generally acceptable? Is it ok to name a child The Third if a generation has been skipped?

I have done some online research and am having trouble finding anything on the issue. I'm hoping you & your readers can help clear this up for me!

Thank you so much!

Name suffixes drive me a little bit crazy, because there ARE some rules, but since they are NEVER FOLLOWED I think it's safe to say they're irrelevant. One example: the suffixes are supposed to change as the older holders of the name die off---IV becomes III, III becomes Jr. and so on. Furthermore, Sr. doesn't use the Sr. suffix: he's just Robert Jones, and all the others have suffixes. Is anyone going to follow these rules? OF COURSE NOT. No need for anyone to leave me unpleasant remarks in the comments section (as they have continued to do on the post where I last mentioned these rules), because I already fully understand how inconvenient it would be to follow the rules, and likely I would not follow them myself if there were such a naming situation in my family. Nevertheless, the rules exist.

Where was I? Oh yes. For skipping a generation, I went to my Miss Manners books. I looked in six of the thickest of them, but didn't find a mention of how to do the numbers if you skip. As I understand it, the reason there are no rules for those situations is that in those situations the suffix system does not apply, because the suffix system is set up for descendants in an unbroken line. (It's a whole different system for popes and kings; they don't use Sr. and Jr., either.)

HOWEVER, I have heard of, for example, naming a child after his grandfather or uncle and calling the child "Robert Jones II" rather than Robert Jones Jr., to indicate that it's not an unbroken/traditional succession. And presumably a Robert Jones II would be able to name his son Robert Jones III? So what would be the difference if the break came between II and III instead of between Sr. and II?

On the other hand, it feels like cheating, doesn't it? The big deal of suffixes, and the reason they become such huge important deals in families, is the idea that it MUST be done by each generation in a very particular fashion, without messing with it in any way (for example, no changing the middle name), or else it would have to start all the way over---which is why the pressure increases with each generation. There's no "on a break" of suffix-naming: it's the firstborn son of each name-holder, and there is no skipping. And we know that we don't get to go back into our family trees and pick up the suffixes from where they left off several generations ago: we'd need to start a new line.

I think the upshot here is that no, what your husband would like to do is not traditionally/generally allowed/acceptable, but that no one's going to stop you. There is possible precedent for choosing to use the III (using "II" to name a child for his grandfather, for example), but there is significantly larger quantities of precedent for it not being legitimate (i.e., the whole rest of the tradition and how it's traditionally applied). If you choose to use III for your son non-traditionally, you'll have to be resigned to people assuming his father's name is the same as his, and people potentially acting disgruntled that a generation was skipped. If you're willing to accept these consequences, there is no Suffix Police who will keep you from using it.

Edited to add: Let's add a poll to this one, over to the right. [Poll closed; see results below.]

Name update! Amie writes:
I just wanted to send you an update to this Baby Naming Issue post as our little Edward Joseph was born Sunday the 7th! We really appreciate all of your readers comments & decided not to use the "III" suffix on his birth certificate. When it comes down to it, it's just plain easier - for us to not have to explain the skipping of the generation, and for him later in life on legal forms, etc.

We really appreciate your help & continue to enjoy your blog!


Allison said...

Personally, I would never add the suffix if a generation was skipped. It just logically doesn't make sense. If I were to name my son after his grandfather I wouldn't add a jr or a II so I don't really see why you would now either, even though the grandfather is a II.

Bethtastic said...

I say if the baby is the third person to have that name, then he's Edward Joseph Surname III.

Because he really is the third to have that name. Regardless of generation skips.

So, if you and your husband want a III, so be it.

lifeofadoctorswife said...

I voted "no," just because I am big on tradition. But I agree that there is no Suffix Police, and if it makes both parents happy, why not?

Also, Swistle, this sentence is one reason I adore your blogs so very much: "I went to my Miss Manners books. I looked in six of the thickest of them." Anyone who has more than six manners books is someone I want to know.

meanliving said...

Like Swistle pointed out, no one's going to come after you and demand that you follow The Rules, but is there any particular reason you/your husband WANT to put the III after his name? To me it seems like that adds a certain haughtiness to a normal classic name. Like you're trying to prove there's a distinguished lineage or something. And since there is a generation that was skipped, it seems a little forced.

One more teensy mark in the negative column would be that filling out forms may get messy if there is no designated spot for a suffix.

BUT. It truly doesn't matter to people like me and if you want to, you can name your son Helicopter Jigsaw VIII. It's not like the suffix is a legal designation, right?

Emmuh said...

I know of a situation from a few generations back that might encourage you to do what you want:

A father (III), named his son the 4th (born around 1940's). This father had a brother who named his son the same name, without the suffix. (Just in case illness got one of the two??) But in any case, there were 2 first cousins with the same name, one of them had a suffix and the other did not. If something had happened to one, the other would have been given the family line and added IV to the end of it and carried on the tradition.

All that to say, do what you feel good about. There will be lots of questions if you add a suffix, but aren't there always?

Anonymous said...

What's the rule regarding the use of a comma before the roman numeral suffix? Is it "Name Surname, III" or "Name Surname III"?

I know there is a comma before Jr. or Sr.

M.Amanda said...

Personally, I wouldn't think anything of it, just that he had a "family name." However, I think a lot of people not only would be surprised that the father did not share the name, but also would be snooty about it, like "*rolls eyes* You know it's supposed to be passed down father to son, don't you?" (I could be wrong, though; maybe my faith in humanity is a little low at the moment.)

If that kind of reaction for you and later on for your son bothers you, skip the suffix and rest assured it is still honoring the relative even if you don't use the suffix. Otherwise, roll with it. It's a family name and he's the third in the family to carry that full name.

Regarding Anon question about the comma, I don't remember hearing a rule and never really thought about it, but I tend to use the comma with Jr. and Sr. and not with numerals. I'm now very curious.

Firegirl said...

I've thought about it all morning, mulling back & forth. There is a sr & jr in my family and Sr - IV in the inlaws so I was trying to use them as reference.

You're right: there's no police but it just doesn't sit right. I believe just simply naming the child with the same name is sufficient.

But then...does it make it confusing at all with legal records by relying only on social security numbers to differentiate? Would then a suffix be helpful?

So, yeah, no help at all am I.

Kimberly said...

It wouldn't bother me, but then my father (Thomas William bower) has always been resentful that he was not a junior (his father us Thomas Alvis Bower). My dad had two ideas on how to fix this.

1) had he hada son he would have named him Thomas Alvis William Bower III. Yes, ridiculous. But thats my dad.

2) he suggested I name my son Thomas William bower Hellman, Ii. Also ridiculous. That is not my sons name.

So, compared to those ideas, your plan sounds totally normal.

*I used fake names for those, but the initials and idea are the same.

Anonymous said...

I think it's totally fine for the name to skip a generation and still keep the suffix. It happens all the time with royalty and the popes. The Current Queen of England is Queen Elizabeth II and that wasn't handed down directly, and the current Pope is Benedict XVI when the last pope was John Paul II. It's just more common for names to be passed generationally, so you may get some raised eyebrows, but if it's good enough for royalty it's certainly good enough for your son.

Swistle said...

Anonymous- As I mentioned in the post, the pope/royalty system is in fact an entirely different system: they don't have Jr./Sr., nor is "related" a requirement. I think people get them confused just because of the Roman numerals.

Joanne said...

I am voting no because unless there is some kind of kingdom or king's ransom involved, I think it just ends up to be a pain.

Shanon said...

I’d steer your husband away from it. My father is a “III” and has found it burdensome when having to use it in all legal situations. If I had a brother (all girls in our family, lucky guy!) my dad would have just passed along the name and not made a him a “IV.”

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone will care outside your family. I personally would not do it.

Patricia said...

I voted no. Of course, you can name your son anything you want, but is it practical to add 'III' to his name? As others have pointed out, that can cause some difficulties with his legal name having to have 'III' after it to be correct and can also sound pretentious. And if you include 'III', there will always be others who will dispute the correctness of your doing so since a generation was skipped.

I think Edward Joseph is a fine name and a special tribute to your son's paternal heritage without needing to add 'III'. Your son will know that his name goes back to his great-grandfather and that he's carrying on the name his grandpa has too, without 'III' following it.

I'm wondering why Edward Joseph, Jr. didn't pass the name on to his son, your husband. Have you asked his opinion about whether or not you should add 'III' to your son's name?

Patricia said...

Now I've found an opinion that supports your husband's desire for his son to be named Edward Joseph Surname, III:

"How do you name a Jr vs II vs III?

If your name is John Henry Doe and you name your son John Henry Doe, you then become Senior (Sr.) and your son Junior (Jr.), not the second (II). If your son John Henry Doe, Jr. names his son (your grandson) the same, his son then becomes 'the third"', i.e. John Henry Doe III. However, if you name your son Richard Henry or John Harold, anything but John Henry Doe, but he still names his son (your grandson) after you, your grandson then becomes John Henry Doe II. The 'third" is the third descendant in a family with the same name in either direct or indirect line. In everyday practice, the Sr., Jr., III are often only used when all parties are living but genealogically it is important to maintain the correct title to prevent confusion."
(wiki.answers dot com)

I have no idea what 'authority' (or not) provided the answer above, but it makes sense. I changed my vote to 'yes,' a suffix can be used even if a generation is skipped.

Patricia said...

Thinking again about the poll results for your question, I think they may reflect readers' opinions more than whether or not it's correct to "use a suffix if a generation has been skipped". While personally not in favor of "juniors", etc. and favoring that a child be given at least one name distinctly his own (thus my first vote as "no"), I do think that most likely it is correct naming form to add III to your son's name, which is identical to that of his grandfather and great grandfather, thus causing me to change my vote to "yes". I think the poll results may be more a reflection of how readers feel about suffixes than of their having reasons for why it would be incorrect for you to add III to your son's name.

Megan said...

I voted yes cause I did it to my son. My husband, Jim had an older brother named William Surname IV. That brother died when he was 3 and the name was then gone too. We named my baby William Surname V to honor the brother and my husband's father. It has made the family really happy.

Anonymous said...

My husband wanted to name our future son William Franklin Lastname IV, even though his uncle (not him or even his father) was the last to have it - William Franklin III. I wouldn't have minded except I couldn't get on board with "Franklin" haha. It's totally up to you...I wouldn't have felt weird explaining to people that my IV wasn't named directly after his father. It's a family name.

Patricia said...

Another option would be to give your son a slightly different middle name: Edward Josiah or Edward Joel. His name would be very close to his grandfather's and great-grandfather's names and still honoring them, yet it would be distinctly his own and there wouldn't be the dilemma of whether or not to add 'III' to it.

I'm wondering what you plan to call your son most of the time - Edward, Eddie/Ed, Teddy/Ted, Ned or something else? We named our first son Edward Anthony (after both of his grandfathers) and called him Teddy (later Ted).

junior said...

Although I definitely see how it can come across as pretentious to name your kid "III" with a generational skip, I think I'm leaning towards it being correct.

As stated above, the term "junior" can only be passed from father to son. Thus, only my son could be "My Sweet Name, Jr." However, if I name him something else, his son is named "My Sweet Name II." If my brother had a son and named him after me, that kid would first be "My Sweet Name II." My son could name his son "My Sweet Name III" after his uncle; likewise, the brother's kid could name his child "My Sweet Name III." I think the way it works from there is that whoever has a child named the same name first would use the IV suffix and the other one would apparently use the V, even though they would be cousins in the same generation. Only the one closest to the original named person can drop his suffix, at his election, but all successive name-holders keep theirs for, among other reasons, legal purposes. (E.g., MSNIII dies, leaving IV, V, and VI still alive. MSW IV can drop his suffix and start using just MSN, but the later guys would still be MSNV and MSNVI.)

I also believe this kind of thing would technically still apply, even with generational gaps. For example, I interpret the rules to say that you would name the fourth in a line of succession named "My Sweet Name" IV, even if two generations have been skipped.

A related question I have is this: Suppose you've got 3 in a direct line of succession named MSW, MSWjr, MSWIII. At that point, MSWjr's brother hijacks the sweet name, and his child is "My Sweet Name IV". Then, MSWIII dies without passing on the name but leaves a male heir, who has 2 more generations of male heirs without the name. "My Sweet Name VII" is currently still living and carrying on the name, but the actual lineal descendant of the original and subsequent nameholders is having a kid and wants to give it the name--would it be proper in this instance to name it "VIII" since the name has been running continuously, albeit it is now carried by a somewhat more distant relative who you may not even know or at least not well ("he's the loser that carries on my great-great-great-grandfather's cool name"). Since the name is still in use and you all descend from the same original nameholder, this route seems like it could be right, although confusing. Would it be more proper to name the child the "IV" since "III" was the last suffix in the child's direct line? Or would it be proper in this instance simply to start over?? I know everyone will probably say start over, but I'm interested in what the actual correct thing to do would be, bot what won't get people rolling their eyes or thinking how pretentious you are. Thanks!

Patricia said...

Edward Joseph is such a fine name, and I think you made a wise decision to omit "III". He'll know that he has a very special name in his family, yet won't have to repeatedly explain "III" or include "III" on every legal document. (Now as the mother of an Edward who was called Teddy and now Ted, I'm wondering if you're calling your son, Edward, Teddy, Eddie, Ned, or something else... ;-) ) Best wishes!

Amie said...

Thanks Patricia! We're actually calling him Edward! I thought for sure we'd go with a nickname once he was born, but so far, Edward has stuck and I love it!