Family Followings: What are Some Guidelines for Generational Names?

Q: When there are same names for dads and sons, Sr. Jr., or I, II, III, IV etc. what are the rules on how they are used? When one dies, do you change the other names or does everyone keep their respective title? Is the suffix written on their birth certificate?

A: In some families, names are carried on through three or more generations – John (Sr.) is succeeded by John, Jr., and Johns III, IV, and V.  But this presents something of a problem once John, Sr. has died.  Does each man retain the title by which he has always been known, or does everyone “move up”?  The only “rule” in this regard is to use common sense.  Moving up the suffixes is bound to cause some confusion among acquaintances who used to know the new John, Jr. as John III.  Then there are the changes that must be made on personal accounts and bank checks. Yes, the suffix may be placed on a birth certificate.

Respect your Elders: Is it Improper to Call an Elder by their First Name?

Q: I am recently married for the first time. Sam, my wife’s 11-year-old godson, has referred to my wife as ‘Aunt Sue’ ever since he was a toddler. However, he calls me only by my first name. For proper respect to an elder, I think he should call me ‘Uncle John.’ I’ve been reluctant to bring this up with Sam or his mother; for fear that they’ll view me as too prudish. Sam calls his stepfather by his first name, so he probably doesn’t see a problem with calling me by my first name. But deep down, I’m not comfortable with it. Do I have a legitimate concern, or am I an old-fashioned prude?

A: A child calling an adult by first name without being invited to do so may be perceived as rude.  However, since Sam calls his stepfather by his first name, he probably thinks it’s fine to call you by your first name especially if his mother hasn’t said anything.  Nonetheless, it would be fine to tell Sam and/or his mother that you would prefer to be called “Uncle John” since he calls your wife “Aunt Sue.”  Neither should object.