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. These include whole words and phrases, (“baronet”, “senior”) and post-nominal letters (“M.D.”, “MBA”).
Academic suffixes indicate the diploma or degree earned at an educational institution, especially 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
- A monarch (an example would be ‘KBE’ which indicates a knighthood given to a recipient who is not a citizen of a Commonwealth Realm)
- A university (as in a PhD (doctor of philosophy) awarded in recognition of a person’s life achievements rather than their academic standing).
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.
Namesakes in the same family
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 Western languages other than English, the designations are père and fils, from the French for ‘father’ and ‘son’. The foreign styling is usually retained, so, Alexandre Duman, fils, when writing about Dumas in English.
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. However, 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. It is not proper to name a boy after his own living brother. 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. formally but Mrs. Shannon Chaney informally, particularly in conversation. 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? According to the late etiquette maven Emily Post, neither tradition nor etiquette provides a definitive answer. Not all specialists concur, 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. ‘Moving up one’ 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 the professional styling for an attorney and its social use is becoming less and less common. ‘Esq.’ in its social sense is never used for a woman.