Generational Suffixes: When Junior and II Are–and Were–Used in Families

by , under My Family History

Today, I was double checking my “Dingmans of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio” family tree on (it actually has a URL, which is, and I noted that the Junior suffix was used after the name of a son of Jacob (b 1788 in Schodack, Rennselaer, New York). The son, however, was Peter Jr, not Jacob Jr. Jacob did have a brother by the name of Peter, and they both lived in Charleston Town, Montgomery County, New York in the early decades of the 19th century. What was the story here?

I did a quick lookup on Wikipedia for suffixes <> and there appeared a very informative article on all kinds of suffixes, professional and personal. What I was interested in specifically was under the heading of Generational Suffixes. Here is what applies to my family naming question:

Generational suffixes are used to distinguish persons who share the same name within a family. A generational suffix can be used informally (for disambiguation purposes, or as nicknames) and is often incorporated in legal documents.

The most common name suffixes are senior and junior, most frequent in American usage, which are written with a capital first letter (“Jr.” and “Sr.”) with or without an interceding comma. In England, the abbreviations are “Jnr” and “Snr”, respectively. The term “junior” is correctly used only if a child’s first, middle, and last names are identical to his or her parent’s names. When the suffixes are spelled out in full, they are always written with the first letter in lower case.

This confirms what I have understood to be common practice in recent times. Thus, my uncle, Wallace Betts Dingman, was called Junior during his growing up years, as his father (and my maternal grandfather) was also Wallace Betts Dingman. Unfortunately, Wallace Betts Dingman Sr died in 1920, well before I was born, and when his son was only nine years old. He may have used the suffix Sr, although I have not seen any surviving records referring to him that way.

This all still leaves the question of why a son of Jacob Dingman was referred to as Peter Dingman Jr some 100 years earlier in upstate New York. Wikipedia came to the rescue, with an explanation further down on the same web page referred to above:

Alternatively, Jr’s are sometimes referred to as “II”. However, the original name carrier relative of a “II” is generally an uncle, cousin, or ancestor (including grandfather). The suffix “III” is used after either Jr or II and like subsequent numeric suffixes, does not need to be restricted to one family line. For example, if Randall and Patrick Dudley are brothers and if Randall has a son before Patrick, he will call his son Patrick II. If Patrick now has a son, his son is Patrick, Jr.

As time passes, the III suffix goes to the son of either Patrick Jr or Patrick II, whomever is first to have a son named Patrick. This is one way it is possible and correct for a Junior to father a IV. Another example involves President Ulysses S. Grant and his sons Frederick, Ulysses Jr, and Jesse. When Frederick’s son Ulysses was born in 1881, Ulysses Jr did not yet have a son named after himself. Therefore, Frederick’s son was Ulysses III. Ulysses Jr’s son, born afterwards in 1893, was Ulysses IV. Jesse’s son Chapman was the father of Ulysses V, as neither Ulysses III nor Ulysses IV had sons named for themselves.

There you have it. Peter Dingman, son of Jacob Dingman, used the generational suffix Jr to indicate that he was the second Peter in the Dingman family which included his father, Jacob, and an uncle, Peter. It no doubt helped people distinguish which Peter was which in Charleston Town, Montgomery County, New York in the early 1800s.

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