The Grammarphobia Blog

Does “Sr.” outlive the senior?

Q: My father and brother, both deceased, had the same name, and used “senior” and “junior” to differentiate themselves. Now, I can’t decide how to present my father’s name in a book dedication. Do you have any advice?

A: The use of “Sr.” in reference to your father would be appropriate.

This is an issue of etiquette, not style, grammar, or usage. But we think it makes sense to keep the “Sr.” here to be clear who is being referred to in the dedication.

Generational suffixes like “Jr.” and “Sr.” aren’t necessarily dropped when a son or a father dies. A deceased father may still be known as “John Doe Sr.” and a deceased son as “John Doe Jr.”

A well-known example is Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., who outlived his “Jr.” son but continued to be referred to as “Sr.” even after his own death.  

When the son survives the father, he may choose to drop the “Jr.” from his name, or he may choose to keep it.

William F. Buckley Jr., for example, used the “Jr.” throughout his life, and the suffix is still used after his death.

And by the way, it’s not necessary to use commas around the abbreviations “Jr.” and “Sr.,” according to The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.).

The manual uses this example: “John Doe Sr. continues to cast a shadow over his son.”

The Oxford English Dictionary describes the use of “Sr.” for “senior” as “chiefly US.”

This use of the abbreviation to distinguish a father from a son of the same name is relatively new, according to OED citations.

The earliest example in the dictionary is from the June 5, 1936, issue of the New York Herald Tribune: “Extradition of Ellis Parker Sr. to await Republican Convention.”

(The OED doesn’t have any citations for “Jr.” used to distinguish a son from his father.)

However, the dictionary has citations dating from the 1400s for the word “senior” used this way, and from the 1600s for “junior” used for the son.

Here’s an example from a 1692 issue of the London Gazette that uses both: “Lost, a Note of Mr. Tho. Symonds junior’s Hand for Mr. Tho. Symonds senior … for 50£.

Finally, you might be interested in a post we wrote a few months ago about the use of “senior” to refer to an old person.

Help support the Grammarphobia Blog with your donation.
And check out
our books about the English language.