Comma when using "junior" or "senior" with a first name (informal text)?

I should be able to answer this myself but I’ve been reading staggeringly boring material for about 10 hours straight and am barely able to think anymore.

I’m proofreading an otherwise formal brochure of Very Important Speaker biographies for a Very Large Institution’s upcoming conference. In one, the Very Important Speaker is John Smith, Jr. His dad, naturally, is John Smith, Sr. Easy so far.

The problem occurs where, in one section, the writer starts getting informal and begins referring to the speaker and his father in the same paragraph by their first names. Hypothetical example (bolding mine):

The Smiths now span three generations, with five adults: In addition to John, Sr., there is his wife, Sally; their three children, John, Jr., Mary and Fred; and the younger John’s son, Mark.

John, Jr. is just as industrious as his father. Meanwhile, John, Sr. has won awards for being generally awesome. John, Jr. married Theresa Jones and upon his marriage was given $1 million by John, Sr. as an incentive to begin his charitable foundation.

(No, this isn’t the actual text, but it’s relatively close. And–I cannot stress this enough–I am forbidden to recast the sentence. Text is sacrosanct since it comes directly from the Very Important speakers, praise be unto them. So I can’t wiggle out of this by, for example, changing “John., Jr. married Theresa” to “His son married Theresa.” Such is the life in dealing with big institutions and bigger egos.)

My question is: WTF do I do here? It’s especially bad in the second paragraph, when the writer uses a comma before the “Jr.” and “Sr.” but not after. It looks horrible and I’ve never come across this problem before. Sure, in informal text or fiction dialogue someone might refer to a character as “Jack Junior” (usually the “junior” is spelled out with no comma) but in this context I’m uncertain if this ugliness is correct or not.

In all my usual style manuals/bibles, such as the organization’s own private style guide, Chicago Manual of Style, AP or even APA style, I’ve only found references to the standard questions: whether to use commas both before and after the “Jr.” after last names, or what to do when a name is listed with the last name first (e.g., “Smith., John., Sr.”). But I’m not finding anything with just a first name usage.


In these cases, I would go with either no commas or commas before and after. If I had to pick, I’d go with no commas. I don’t think the distinction between first and last names is all that important here. If you want to be more sure, google what the New Yorker does.

So I would write:

You could get rid of a lot of the repetition, though, with judicious use of pronouns. (Put John Jr. closer to his son, replace names with the relative pronoun “who,” etc., etc.)

(I also don’t think that using first names is informal here. When everyone has the same last name, what else are you supposed to do?)

If the PTB say not to change the wording, and the text as written is at least internally consistent in the use of commas near Jrs & Srs, then leave it the fuck alone.

You’re not going to win pedant points for replacing leading commas with trailing commas. Nor will you gain clarity points by doubling the number of commas in what’s already punctuation-heavy prose.

Quit while you’re behind. Don’t work extra to get more behinder[sup]1[/sup].

[sub]1. With apologies to the English language for my emphatic butchery here. :)[/sub]

No commas for “Jr.” or “Sr.” with either the full name or a shortened name. It’s outdated, unnecessary, and people always leave out the second comma, making it ungrammatical. No commas is also the Associated Press style.

Reading that aloud, I find that the leading comma interferes with the flow “John Sr.” has no pause in the middle - “John, Sr.” reads as John - pause - Senior.

Ooh thanks guys. Sorry, for some reason even though I thought I subscribed to this thread, I apparently didn’t. Obviously not at my best at crazy-o’clock in the morning!

As it happens I went with my gut, and with the majority here, by nuking the comma before the “Jr.” and “Sr.” when used with a first name. That unnecessary comma was a constant visual hiccup and made the piece read terribly and look even worse.

(Oh, and I call this section informal because throughout the rest of the same bio, the Very Important Speaker uses “Mr.” and “Ms.” along with the last names for all the, uh, cast of characters, even though they all have the same frickin’ last name. All I could do was point out this inconsistency, leaving it otherwise untouched.)

Finally, LSLGuy, it’s my job to be annoyingly pedantic. That’s why they pay me the big bucks to do this crap. :slight_smile: Well, they want both my nitpickery and my layperson’s sensibility, because while some of their output is written for other industry insiders, much of it is aimed at the general (albeit very wealthy) public.

So they hire me when they want to make sure the material’s not filled with jargon, undefined acronyms and concepts that are too “inside baseball” for their prospective customers. As an outsider I seem to be able to spot these issues much more easily than their in-house proofreaders can.

Anyhoo, even if I can’t rewrite things, my client most definitely wants this brochure (brochure my foot–at 131 pages, it’s really a book) at its best. The only constraint is not changing the writers’ words unless they’re absolutely wrong.

Thanks again for the help, especially because it agrees with my own thoughts! That’s the very best kind of advice. :smiley:

That’s also the rule with Chicago Manual of Style (cite), so that should cover what most of edited American English text follows stylistically.

So Choie, AP and Chicago agree that in both formal and informal use, no comma—John Smith Jr. and John Jr.

I like your idea of spelling out “junior” and “senior,” which you could put in parens.

ETA: On preview, it doesn’t look that great. Stick with everyone else’s suggestion.

Thanks for the confirmation and the help, everyone!

Surprised no one suggested using Smith fils and Smith père. :smiley:

Here is an example from a Wikipedia article:

And this is his official biography on the SCOTUS website:

Or you could get all Biblical: Go with “John the Greater” and “John the Less.” :slight_smile:

The feds have their own style manual which retains the old rule (that is, leading and trailing commas.) Wikipedia also has its own style guide which closely tracks the APA.

BTW, is this a part of one’s official, legal name in the US? Does it show up on the driver’s license or on the utility bill?

Yes and no (though this varies by state.) If you fill in the bit on the driver’s license form that asks for suffixes, it will be on your license. If you don’t, it won’t. Some states (Minnesota, for example) don’t allow parents to record suffixes on birth certificates, but most do. It’s generally a question of preference. The US State Department seems to hem and haw a bit about when suffixes are strictly required and when they are not.