Passing down the family name may be tradition, but it’s a tradition with complications.
When naming a son after his father, it is a common practice to add a Junior or Jr. The next generation becomes the 3rd or III. And so on.
Sounds simple, but it’s not.
Comes across as downright honorary and traditional. But allow me to educate those of you without the distinction of a post-nominal roman numeral, how such a moniker may, at times, be awkward, if not problematic.
I should know.
My parents named me Stewart McElhannon III. No middle name. My father was a Jr. Thus, I became the 3rd.
So, is having a post-nominal abbreviation like Jr., III, IV, after a man’s name an honor or a complication? Of course, I am honored to be named after my father and grandfather, but, as I will share, following tradition can have unintended consequences.
Having experienced those consequences, I chose to stop this numerical branding tradition when my sons were born. Here are a few reasons why.
- Form inconsistencies. Many forms ask for your full name. Other forms have separate blocks for your first, middle, and last name. They may or may not include a section for your suffix. If you possess a suffix on your name as I do, you have a lifetime dilemma when forms don’t provide spaces for your suffix. Where do I put my III?
- Need for a Nickname. While not always true, most people I know who carry a suffix like III, also have nicknames. In my case, I suspect my parents thought it odd to call a baby Stewart the 3rd and quickly assigned me the nickname of Buddy. I know other III’s who are called Trip in recognition of their being third in the nomenclature line.
- Suffixes confuse modern computerized mail-list technology. Depending on the source for your name and address, you will receive junk mail with all sorts of variations of your name. My favorite moniker riff is when I receive that oh-so (im)personal invitation to purchase the latest can’t miss product, and the letter is addressed to Mr. III. Apparently, the data source used a form that had no place for a suffix. No doubt, I filled out the last name as McElhannon III. The computer reads my surname as III. Roman numerals are just too much for today’s sophisticated computer tracking systems. I no longer have the honor of being Stewart McElhannon the 3rd. Now I am just Mr. III, pronounced “aye-aye-aye.”
- Insurance confusion. If you carry a suffix, I advise you never to be in the hospital at the same time as your father. Years ago, a sharp pain in my hip prompted a scary visit to the local Emergency Room. Fortunately, it was just a tendon that had popped, and my ER visit required only outpatient services. Alas, my dad was in the same hospital at the same time. Our hospital records got jumbled with Stewart McElhannon, Jr. and Stewart McElhannon III being there at the same time. The billing took two years to get resolved.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am proud to carry the family name. Traditions are usually good things unless they include polar bear plunges, running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, or not wearing white after Labor Day. Really? Summer lasts into November here in the South. Alas, I digress…
When my first son was born, we were faced with the question, do we name him Stewart McElhannon IV? We opted against it. Having lived with nicknames our entire lives, my wife and I decided the priority should be to give our children names we would call them. We chose to avoid post-nominal suffixes, as well as nicknames.
We chose to leave the use of Roman numerals to Royalty and Popes.
And, as an added bonus, our son would never have to worry about receiving mail addressed to Mr. IV.