A name suffix, in the Western naming tradition, follows a person’s full name and provides additional information about the person. There are academic, honorary, professional and social name suffixes.
Academic suffixes indicate the degree earned at a college or university. These include the bachelor’s degree (A.B, B.A. or B.S. etc.) the master’s degree (M.A., MBA...) and the doctorate (Ph.D., J.D., M.D....)
Such titles may be given by
This includes such titles as ‘Esq.’ for an attorney in the United States who has passed a state bar examination, and ‘CSA’ (casting) and ‘ASCAP’ which indicate membership in professional societies.
Social name suffixes are almost exclusively applied to men.
The most common name suffixes are ‘senior’ and ‘junior’, which may be written with a capital first letter (‘Sr.’) or in lower case (‘jr.’) after a comma following the person’s name. The term ‘junior’ is only correctly used if a son is given the exact same name as his father. When spelled out in full, these suffixes are always written with the first letter in lower case. In French, the designations are père (‘father’) and fils (‘son’).
Sons with a different middle name or initial are not called ‘junior’. An example is Ronald P. Reagan, the son of the late U.S. president, who is not titled ‘junior’ because his middle name, Prescott, differs from his late father’s middle name, which was Wilson. This notwithstanding, a son may sometimes be called ‘junior’ even if he is not titled as such, because ‘Junior’ is a popular familial nickname in the United States. One instance of this is George W. Bush, who is nicknamed ‘Junior’ by his family. Interestingly, the son of actor Lon Chaney, was billed by Hollywood as Lon Chaney, Jr. to capitalize on his father’s success, even though he had an entirely different birth name.
Although there are instances in print of daughters who are named after their mothers also being titled ‘jr.’, this is usually for effect; it is not common practice. The title 'Jr.' is sometimes used in legal documents, particularly those pertaining to wills and estates, to distinguish among female family members of the same name.
Boys who should be styled ‘junior’ are sometimes incorrectly called II, particularly if there is a third or fourth with the same name. Even if a legal title, this is socially incorrect; strictly speaking, ‘II’, pronounced ‘the second’, refers to a boy who is named after his grandfather, uncle or cousin. The suffixes II, III, etc. are also correctly written 2nd, 3rd, etc.
A wife traditionally uses the same suffix as her husband in formal society, speech and writing, or if it is her preference. Wives are also correctly addressed in less formal situations using their own first names; such references would not take any suffix. Hence: Mrs. Lon Chaney Jr., but Mrs. Shannon Chaney. Widows are entitled to retain their late husband's full names and suffixes but divorcees may not continue to style themselves with a former husband's full name and suffix, even if they retain the surname.
There is no hard-and-fast rule over what happens to suffixes when the most senior of the name dies. Do the men retain their titles, or do they all ‘move up’ one? Neither tradition nor etiquette provides a definitive answer (columnist Judith Martin, for example, believes they should all 'move up', but most agree that this is left up to the individual families). Upon the death of John Smith, Sr., his son, John Smith, Jr. may decide to style himself John Smith, Sr., (causing confusion if his widowed mother and his wife both use the formal style ‘Mrs. John Smith, Sr.’, and necessitating that his son and grandson change their titles as well) or he may remain John Smith, Jr. for the rest of his lifetime. One advantage of ‘moving up one’ is that it eliminates the extension of Roman numerals over the generations, i.e. a John Smith III, IV and V. A disadvantage is that it may cause confusion with respect to birth certificates, credit cards and the like.
The style ‘Esq.’ or ‘Esquire’ was once used to distinguish a gentleman from the rank and file. It is still used as a courtesy title in formal correspondence. Although still common in the United Kingdom it is used less frequently in a social sense in the United States, where ‘Esq.’ or ‘esq.’ is used as the professional styling for an attorney. ‘Esq.’ in its social sense is never used for a woman.
Practical use of abbreviated forms
Abbreviated suffixes are often used in lieu of the full style and title of people, particularly if their titles are lengthy. For example, in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries the full name, style and titles are used on formal communications to and from the Monarch, as in:
"(Our) Right trusty and well-beloved cousin John Doe, Knight of The Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery"
In this example the following forms of address are abbreviated:
- (Our) Right trusty and well-beloved cousin: Rt Hon
- Knight of The Most Noble Order of the Garter: KG
- Knight of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire: KBE
- Bachelor of Medicine: MB
- Bachelor of Surgery: BChir
Therefore the abbreviated name is "Rt Hon John Doe KG KBE MB BChir".
Last updated: 03-09-2005 12:57:32