Specifically, I'm writing about the poet Ben Jonson, who had a son Ben Jonson, and later a second son, also named Ben Jonson.

Some options I thought of:

  • Ben Jonson, Sr.; Ben Jonson, Jr.; Ben Jonson, III
  • Ben Jonson (the father); Ben Jonson (the first son); Ben Jonson (the second son)

The first one feels wrong, granting them titles which they didn't actually have. The second one feels awkward, though maybe that's a punctuation issue; should dashes or commas be used instead of parentheses?

Is there a specific accepted way to differentiate between them, whether from the above list or another option, or is it up to the author's style?

  • 1
    The first / second son could perhaps be Ben Jonson [junior] major and Ben Jonson [junior] minor. Here are some examples, wherein I particularly like the possibility of accommodating a third even younger son: There was Smith major and Smith minor and Smith minimus :) Mar 25, 2020 at 17:39
  • 1
    I like your second option best because it explains rather than assigning titles. You can also use 'the elder', 'first born', and 'second born'. After all, you're just doing your best in a nutty situation. Mar 25, 2020 at 17:42
  • Loudon Wainwright III's father actually went under the name Loudon Wainwright junior (not Loudon Wainwright II). But what I find most weird is that for three generations they all stuck with the same middle name as well (Snowden). Mar 25, 2020 at 17:49
  • 3
    "The elder" and "the younger" are common in British usage. Literary people might use the French père (father) and fils (son) but this might be thought affected or puzzling in general use. "Benjamin Jonson père wrote the elegiac On My First Sonne (1603)" - Wikipedia. The two Ben Jonson sons were not alive at the same time. Mar 25, 2020 at 18:27
  • @MichaelHarvey Granted that they weren't alive at the same time, but I'm still referring to all three of them in the same paragraph.
    – DonielF
    Mar 25, 2020 at 18:32

3 Answers 3


The first / second son could perhaps be Ben Jonson [junior] major and Ben Jonson [junior] minor. Here are some written examples.

That major / minor distinction is particularly associated with "public" (fee-paying, "elitist") schools for some people, but I see no reason why it wouldn't suit OP's context. The two sons wouldn't normally need to be further specified using junior (as opposed to Ben Jonson senior) because the father wouldn't be major or minor in the first place, so we'd know they must be the sons.

I do not endorse arbitrarily assigning a numeral (Ben Jonson II). It seems reasonable to me that someone like a schoolteacher might take it upon himself to assign identifiers like major / minor. But noting that Loudon Wainwright III's father chose to be known as Loudon Wainwright Junior (not Loudon Wainwright II), I think we should accept that certain forms more strongly require a person's explicit endorsement of the name by which they wish to be known (just as we normally allow that a name should be pronounced as close as possible to the way the bearer himself says it).

  • Marking this as accepted because of the solutions posted thus far this one seems to be the most elegant.
    – DonielF
    Mar 26, 2020 at 17:43

This post concerns variability in the naming question found in actual records. There is a father whose name is plainly written and his son is in records as "Jr." What is peculiar in this case is that the "Jr." appears when the two became resident in another country. "Jr." was not used in their "motherland." Then there was a third descendant carrying the same name who is not distinguished from their father or their grandfather in any way! Records originating in the motherland do not include any distinguishing suffix. In this same family there are also several cases of a name being "reused" in alternating(not sure what adjective to use here) generations with no suffix of any sort having been found in the records.

Besides this case there is another that is even more fraught with difficulty. Something like five generations in a Smith family where at least one of the male children in each generation was given the same name as their father with no distinction whatsoever. Their ancestor had come to the "motherland" from Prussia and from the second generation in their new homeland had spelled the name as "Smith" named successive sons with the same given name. In one case only a different name is associated with the given name but the records do not make it clear that this was an alternate used for identification or if it was just what we would consider a middle name.

While this post doesn't make a pronouncement on a solution it provides two examples which seem to cry out for a consistent approach that would acknowledge what is to be found generally in the records (that is nothing to distinguish one from the other) and the need to communicate that these are actually different people with identical names. It seems the answer given which "assigns" distinguishing terms would be best. But pere & fils only cover 2 generations -- how many would understand "petit fils" for the third?

This is my experience in quasi official records. It seems clear that when life spans were shorter there was less need to distinguish between more than 2 generations. In texts which concern families extending over more than 2 generations some solution is needed which can quickly & reliably understood as having been "added" to the factual record. I believe in such cases a phrase such as "the second of this name" or something similar has to be used to ensure the reader knows there hasn't been an error.


The second option is best. But it says that the father had two sons named Ben.

So I'd change second son to grandson.

And I'd use commas, not semicolons.

  • 1
    ? Grandson means "child's son." He had two sons with the same name (the sons' lifespans didn't overlap); neither was his grandson.
    – DonielF
    Mar 25, 2020 at 20:39

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