The same as my father before me, and his father before him, and ...
January 8, 2014 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Can you think of someone who has the same given name as their great x 20 grandparent (and whose intervening ancestors did, too)? Great x 30 grandparent? Who's the record holder?

I just listened to last weekend's Car Talk podcast. The end credits list producers etc., and also a bunch of made-up silly homonym names ("Our Russian chauffeur is Pikopf Andropov"). There was a new one this week: "Our staff attorney is Justin Volk the 5th". Har har, of course, but it got me wondering: who has the biggest number after their name? In other words, is there anyone named So-And-So the Twentieth?

Typing this, I'm reminded of the French Louises. Can anyone think of a longer dynasty? I'm thinking it's got to be royalty or some kind of aristocratic ruling class that would have enough money and stability to last for that many generations, and also to have a record of the family tree going back that far. Thoughts?
posted by andromache to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
From wiki:

In practice, it is quite uncommon for families to go beyond "IV" in naming children. However, notable examples of families with members containing the suffix "V" include the Taft family (William Howard), the Vanderbilt family (Cornelius), the Astor family (John Jacob and William Waldorf), the Rockefeller family (John Davison), and the Roosevelt family (Theodore). Former Major League Baseball pitcher Orel Leonard Hershiser IV and singer Usher Raymond IV also have sons with "V" as their suffix.
posted by ancient star at 10:34 AM on January 8, 2014

The famous Cleopatra of Shakespeare fame was Cleopatra VII. Her son was Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar.
posted by Riemann at 10:42 AM on January 8, 2014

My nephew is a V, for the record. Not an aristocrat.
posted by skbw at 10:45 AM on January 8, 2014

I used to work with a guy who claimed he was a 53rd.

He was also going to be the last, because he was gay.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:50 AM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are we talking about a long unbroken line of fathers and sons using an official suffix?

One of my brothers has an old family name that goes back to the 18th century in our family at least (if not further). However, it's not my dad's name, nor is it my grandfather's name. It just sort of hops around the family tree for a couple hundred years.
posted by Sara C. at 10:58 AM on January 8, 2014

The French Louises aren't a continuous line of sons. There was a continuous line of seven people named Louis between Louis XIV and Louis XVII, but only four of them were actually kings and got Roman numerals. There's a categorical difference between royal numbers, which can skip generations and refer to people from completely different families, and generational suffixes like, say, Hank Williams III.

It's unlikely you're going to find an authentic father-to-son XX or XXX anywhere, simply because the numbering thing for non-aristocrats is more or less an American custom and there's only been around XII generations of America.
posted by theodolite at 11:06 AM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

In old-fashioned etiquette, the younger ones "move up" a number when an older one dies. So junior becomes just plain Mister, III becomes junior, etc. See here. But that seems to be falling out of fashion somewhat, and men seem to be getting fonder of sticking to their Roman numeral of birth. But that's why you probably haven't run across any Bob Smith, IX or some such.
posted by JanetLand at 11:07 AM on January 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Theodolite is referring to regnal names... another interesting effect of them being assumed names is that sometimes the same person could have two different Roman Numeral suffixes.
posted by rada at 11:09 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nine generations of my family on my mom's side used the same first and middle name for a string of fathers and sons. I don't know whether they actually used the roman numberal suffixes. It stopped with my great-grandfather. I don't know why, but he'd immigrated to the U.S. and the names in question sound a little silly here.
posted by Area Man at 11:11 AM on January 8, 2014

I had a teacher who was William Dunkum III. He was in fact the 13th William Dunkum, he being the son of William Dunkum III, and the grandson of another William Dunkum III.

According to him, the traditional rule for non-royalty is you only count living "William Dunkum" progenitors at your birth. If you have a living great grandparent, you could be William Dunkum IV. If your grandfather dies before you're born you could be William Dunkum II. However once you're William Dunkum III, you're William Dunkum III for life.
posted by Llamadog-dad at 11:20 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a facebook friend who is (name) (name) Smith VI. They can trace back to pre-1700 in the US, though. I'm pretty sure the name is an unbroken line of fathers and sons going back further than that.

The real issue you run into is infant mortality. Most of the potential lines will peter out because the named son dies in infancy, ending the line.
posted by anastasiav at 11:33 AM on January 8, 2014

Yeah, traditionally (for non-kings) the oldest living John Smith is John Smith or John Smith Sr., the second-oldest is Jr., the third is III, etc. So in terms of suffixes, you're unlikely ever to get beyond III or IV. It was a distinguishing-people thing, not a carrying-on-the-name thing. I think, when you get far enough back, people didn't even have to be father and son to be "Jr" or "Sr" to each other, it was just what you did when there was more than one person of that name in the village.

There was a Heinrich LXXI von Reuss, aka the 71st, though he died in childhood. I doubt it gets much higher than that. (In the West, at least -- is anyone familiar with non-European traditions of generational naming?) However, bear in mind that the Reusses are not exactly sequential by generation -- if a Heinrich has ten sons, all ten will be named Heinrich. (Yes, this is insane.)
posted by ostro at 11:36 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Prince Heinrich LXVII Reuss of Schleiz"
That's quite a link. Prince Heinrich LXVII is the son of Prince Heinrich LXII and the father of Prince Heinrich XIV. "The House of Reuss practises an unusual system of naming and numbering the male members of the family..."
posted by MtDewd at 11:39 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two problems. First, as mentioned above, most of the people with a number after their name gain that number not because they're the nth generation in their family tree with that name, but because they're the nth person with that name to hold whatever title they do. The French Bourbon dynasty is mentioned above, but it's just as true of the kings of England. And the Pope, for that matter. If we're going that way, then there's Pope John XXIII from the late 1950s to early 1960s. There are several other papal names with iterations in excess of XV out there.

But the other problem is that twenty generations is a long time. Even assuming an average generational age of forty years, twenty generations takes us back to the thirteenth century. Thirty would take us back to the ninth. Unless the person in question is unquestionably the scion of a known royal house, you basically have to take any claims which purport to trace one's genealogy back earlier than about the fifteenth century with a pretty big grain of salt. The phrase "time immemorial" comes to mind. Now it just means "before current reliable memory or record," but it used to specifically mean "before AD 1189" at English common law. As early as the thirteenth century, the legal system there recognized that there were no reliable records much before then.

If someone did introduce themselves to me as "John Smith the XXth," I'd assume that the numbering doesn't necessarily mean that he's the twentieth generation in his family to be named "John Smith," even if that's what he believes. Conventions are variable. The link about the House of Reuss illustrates the point. And lot of family trees run into huge problems when someone immigrates. So if someone tells me they can trace their genealogy back twenty generations, I'll listen, but I pretty much always assume there's a certain amount of speculation going on.
posted by valkyryn at 11:43 AM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

There have been a whole line of men named Outerbridge Horsey. I think they are up to #7. Plus Outerbridge Horsey is the greatest name ever.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:44 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

rada: Oh man, that Prince Heinrich LXVII page is nuts:

certain heads of the Reuss Younger Line have had the highest numbers attached to their name of any European nobility. ... the sons of Prince Heinrich LXVII Reuss of Schleiz, in order of their births, used the names Heinrich V, Heinrich VIII, Heinrich XI, Heinrich XIV, and Heinrich XVI.

It looks like the Heinrichs win on a technicality! LXVII is the number to beat!

Theodolite: Thanks for the correction re: Louises, and for introducing the concept of regnal names. I did not know the term but I like it and it's helpful in this discussion.

anastasiav: Good, and grim, observation about infant mortality.

Great answers, thanks all for weighing in. Keep the links and anecdotes coming!
posted by andromache at 11:46 AM on January 8, 2014

I grew up acquaintances with Miles (or maybe Myles) Standish (I believe) the 17th. I know he was a direct descendent but I think the numerical designation may have included some other relatives as well.
posted by carmicha at 11:55 AM on January 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

While this isn't a specific answer to your question, I think you may find it interesting anyway. I grew up in the south, which is home to a lot of hidden generational names. Kids would go by nicknames as if they were their real name (like, even on school records and such), when their real legal birth certificate name was actually their father's.

I knew a Tripp and a Trey and a Trent who were all IIIs.
I knew a Quint and two Quentins who were Vs.
Bubbas and Bubbys were usually Juniors, but I also knew one who was a IV.

It was also fun to watch nicknames loop back around.

One of my classmates was named William. He was a IV. His grandfather was Bill and his Dad was Billy, and by the time my classmate was born they had run out of nicknames so the cycle reset back at William.

What I'm getting at might have secret legacy named people lurking around you at this very minute and you just didn't notice because Quentin seems like it would be someone's real name.
posted by phunniemee at 12:04 PM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

John Palfrey who has been very active in the DPLA and at the Berkman Center at Harvard (and who is now dean at Phillips Andover) has been called (by Harvard, who may care about such things) John Palfrey VII.
posted by jessamyn at 12:45 PM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Scottish nobility / clan chiefs are good for this: the Marquess of Bute has been named John Crichton-Stuart since the 1700s, but that's been an uninterrupted male line: the current lord is better known as the former racing driver Johnny Dumfries. His only son is called John.

Aristocratic naming traditions can get interrupted if a first son dies before acceding to the title, although there are some titles that require name changes. The House of Reuss get around this in the George Foreman manner, where no matter how fate deals with primogeniture, you'll end up with a Heinrich.
posted by holgate at 12:53 PM on January 8, 2014

The Norwegian side of my family had a string of Ole Stefanusen and Stefanus Olsen/Olesen for a few generations, but the real story is actually on the women's side. Over a dozen generations, you can find women named Anna and Anne (in Norwegian the pronunciation is very similar to our English "Anna"). My great-grandmother was named Annikke; she had sisters named Anne and Anna, and she was actually called Anni. The story goes – and genealogical records hold this out, as we had big names in Danish and Norwegian churches, as well as Swedish knights (the families moved around a lot) – that "Anna" was carried down through the generations because it has always been part of the family. "Ole" and "Stefanus" were very recent, dating back "only" to the 1700s, and there is no other similar tradition for men's names. While my great-grandfather was named Ole, they did not name any of their sons that, nor did anyone name any of his grandsons or great-grandsons Ole or Stefanus/Stephen. Whereas we can trace Anna/Anne back to the 1300s on several sides.

My given name is Anna.
posted by fraula at 1:12 PM on January 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ichikawa Danjuro is up to XII. This is a lineage of kabuki actors. Most are not related by blood, but are adopted by their predecessors. There are other high-numbered kabuki lineages as well.

I knew a guy from Iceland named Gudni Ellison. As you may know, Icelanders take their fathers' names as their last names, with the addition of "son" or "dottir." In Gudni's family, the tradition was just to swap the two, so his father was Ellis Gudnison, whose father was Gudni Ellison, and so on. Not sure how far back that tradition goes, but Iceland has been settled for 1000 years.
posted by adamrice at 1:14 PM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

My first name was Anglicized when the family came over from the old world, so technically speaking it's not the same name (think "Stefano" being turned into "Stephen"), but the family genealogists have tracked it back in my line (my father, his father, my grandfather, great-grandfather, etc. etc. etc.) an astonishingly long time, and on into the double digits. There aren't any numbers involved, nor have there ever been, but there's that.
posted by barnacles at 11:24 PM on January 8, 2014

But the other problem is that twenty generations is a long time. Even assuming an average generational age of forty years, twenty generations takes us back to the thirteenth century.

Valkyryn - you've set 40 as a generational age, but that's pretty high - generally people have had kids younger than that, historically speaking. I think it'd be sensible to set a generational age of about 25-30, which would make twenty generations only last back to the fifteenth or sixteenth century.
posted by spielzebub at 4:59 AM on January 10, 2014

« Older What does "I don't want to talk about it" mean...   |   How should I prepare my sirloin tip roast? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.