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If you have two people with the same name, affixed with the same honorific, do you pluralize the honorific or the name? For example,

  • There were two President Roosevelts.
  • There were two Presidents Roosevelt.

or two Mister Smiths vs. two Misters Smith, etc.

I'm very heavily leaning toward the former (President Roosevelts), but I need a way to explain it. Someone else is trying to argue the latter.

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    There were two Presidents named Roosevelt. – candied_orange Mar 7 '16 at 5:10
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    There is no functional difference between "the President Roosevelts" and "the brother Karamazovs." – Sven Yargs Mar 7 '16 at 7:47
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    @Sven: I'll counter your The Brothers Karamazov with The Two Mrs. Grenvilles and The Two Mr. Kissels. – Peter Shor Mar 7 '16 at 12:16
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    Is there a difference in a fantasy setting when an individual is duplicated? In What are Little Girls Made Of or The Enemy Within, when duplicates are made of James T Kirk, I would say there are "two Captain Kirks." In the 2009 film Star Trek where we have Captain George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine,) I would say we have "two Captains Kirk." – jejorda2 Mar 7 '16 at 13:23
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    @SvenYargs There is a difference: “President Roosevelt” is a title. Unless the Karamazovs were monks, you wouldn't address either as “Brother Karamazov. Rather, I think “brothers Karamazov” is an instance of putting the adjective after the noun, like “attorneys general.” – Jacktose Apr 4 '16 at 23:43
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Since we're not primarily looking at constructs such as governor general where there are no names mentioned, let's ignore these.

For the form (Title) (Name), taking personal preferences seems to lead to a rather polarising discussion. Let's instead look first at accepted conventions with other titles, specifically Mr and the null title.

Before looking at two individuals called Mr X, consider two people, Mr X and Mr Y.

The plural of Mr is Messrs according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary. See also the more extensive article on the same subject in their Learner's Dictionary website. In both places, the form used to refer collectively to Mr X and Mr Y is Messrs X and Y. (The female version of Messrs is Mesdames, with more discussion here.)

This might suggest that the form to use is Presidents Roosevelt, but we need to look more carefully. Where two people are both called Mr Smith, for example, they are both named using the form Messrs Smith and Smith. Here's an example (emphasis mine; emphases in original dropped):

In his monthly report to the Church Envoy in February 1915, Rev JL Mortimer commented that the window was executed by Messrs Smith and Smith, of Dunedin. - Holy Cross, St Kilda

This is therefore poor support for using the two Presidents Roosevelt form, as supported by the ngram analysis below.

Looking now at what we might call the null title, we find that if we have two people, both called Smith, it is customary to call them the Smiths. See also the post Family name pluralisation. Extrapolating this to your question's context produces the form two President Roosevelts.

Nevertheless, these are both somewhat awkward extrapolations, so let's check them against actual usage, using the 41st and 43rd US Presidents, each referred to as President Bush.

Looking at these forms in ngram, we find that Presidents Bush is significantly more popular. When we dig deeper, though, we find that many references are to phrases like "Presidents Bush and Obama", which isn't relevant here. There is only one relevant instance in the first two pages of listings, and that is a piece of fiction.

The relevant references using the form President Bushes are more numerous and in more serious writing. Here's an example (emphasis mine):

In the two most recent Gulf War conflicts, the weight of popular opinion led both President Bushes to seek congressional authorization for the invasions of Iraq in 1991 and 2003. - Kenneth Dautrich and David A Yalof, American Government

You ask:

If you have two people with the same name, affixed with the same honorific, do you pluralize the honorific or the name?

Based on the above, the standard convention is to pluralise the name.

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The guide here is that when you have a set phrase (including titles) made from a noun and a postpositive adjective, the noun takes the plural for the very good reasons that adjectives are invariable. Hence we get professors emeritus, attorneys general, poets laureate, and so on. This can be visualised as having two professors who are emeritus ones; two attorneys who are general ones; or two poets who are laureate ones.

In the OP example, Roosevelt is not an adjective. It is a noun, and able to take a plural on its own, so we can have two President Roosevelts without any problems. Visualise this as having two 'President Roosevelt's . While you could also say we have two presidents, you couldn't say they are Roosevelt ones.

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The way I would explain it is by looking at the nominal group structure.

There were two President Roosevelts

The identified in this simple sentence is the nominal group two president Roosevelts

two gives us the number (how many?) President classifies/identifies the main thing (what type?) Roosevelts is the main thing in the group and, as such, can be counted (what/who?)

Epithets (describers)/Classifiers cannot be counted in English

e.g.

two running shoes = number (how many?) + classifier (what type?) + head thing (what?) a twenty-two year old man = article/Which one (indefinite) + epithet/describer (22-year-old) + head thing (who?)

Compare this to

I am 22 years old = here, I see the main thing as "years", which, as the head thing, can be counted.

You could also point to style guides e.g. the Guardian

attorney general

**lc, no hyphen; plural attorney generals (there will be those who tell you it should be “attorneys general”

http://www.theguardian.com/guardian-observer-style-guide-a

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  • I downvoted because the last paragraph seems quite unrelated to the Original poster's question. What has "berks" and "wankers" got to do with whether one pluralizes the title President, or their last names? E.g. "We've had two President Bushes" and "We've had two presidents that were called Bush" seem to me both correct. – Mari-Lou A Mar 7 '16 at 10:06
  • @Mari-LouA Thanks for highlighting the irrelevancy. I only included it as it was a link in the original source. I have edited accordingly. However, does that make my answer irrelevant? The grammatical explanation still stands. The explanation of "2 president bushes" makes "bushes" the countable noun, while "two presidents called Bush" makes "presidents" the countable noun. – Daniel O'Sullivan Mar 7 '16 at 11:17
  • But not "We've had two president Bushes". The pluralization of Bush or Roosevelt hinges on treating President X as a compound noun, whereas attorney general has, until recently, treated attorney as a noun and general as an adjective (i.e., attorneys general), general being a classification of attorney as opposed to attorney being a type of general. – Egox Mar 7 '16 at 11:35
  • @Egox I am pluralizing "President Bush", If I were to say "The two President Bushes were father and son, respectively", would that be an ungrammatical sentence? If so, you have to prove it! – Mari-Lou A Mar 7 '16 at 13:01
  • @Mari-LouA I agree entirely with your comment on "President Bushes". As an addendum, I posited that the capital "P" is essential in order to treat "President Bush" as one would treat "soup bowl", in that "We've had two president" (lower case "p") results in "two presidents named Bush". – Egox Mar 7 '16 at 13:18
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I think the answer is obvious.

Would you say "There were two Presidents named Roosevelt" or "There were two President named Roosevelts"? Similarly, would you say "There were more than one Presidents named George" or "There was one President named George"? The honorific is a red herring, perhaps.

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