Section 6.43 in the Spotlight
Chicago style doesn’t require commas when “Jr.” or “Sr.” follows a name. Until just a few decades ago, however, commas were the norm.
So in 1918 when Cornell English professor William Strunk Jr.—as we would style his name today—self-published his now-famous classroom guidelines as a forty-three-page booklet, no one would have questioned the comma in his name.
Naturally, Strunk had something to say about that comma: “The abbreviations etc. and jr. are always preceded by a comma and, except at the end of a sentence, followed by one” (The Elements of Style , p. 9).*
That advice is found under rule 3: “Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas” (p. 8). That’s also the rule that introduces the terms nonrestrictive and restrictive. Parenthetic expressions are nonrestrictive (and set off by commas); restrictive expressions are not parenthetic (and not set off by commas).
Strunk considered “Jr.” to be parenthetic and, therefore, nonrestrictive.†
Two years later, in 1920, the book got a fancy New York publisher (Harcourt, Brace). For this edition, rule 3 was expanded to include the year as parenthetic in expressions like “November 11, 1918.”
White Inherits Strunk and His Comma
By the 1950s, Strunk’s former student E. B. White (of Charlotte’s Web and New Yorker fame) was asked to revise the late professor’s book. Strunk’s comma survived the first two editions, published in 1959 and 1972, respectively, by Macmillan.
White’s first revision preserved Strunk’s rationale: “The abbreviations etc. and jr. are parenthetic and are always to be so regarded” (1st ed. , p. 3). For the next edition, academic degrees were added: “The abbreviations etc. and Jr. are parenthetic and are always to be so regarded, as are the abbreviations for academic degrees” (2nd ed. , p. 3).
White Ditches Strunk’s Comma
In 1979, when the third edition of Strunk & White was published, Strunk’s comma was nowhere to be found. This was obvious even to the casual observer, because Strunk’s and White’s names on the cover were now huge.
Nor was this merely a design decision for the cover only; the commas had also disappeared from the copyright page.
Here’s a snippet from the copyright page of the second edition of Strunk & White (1972). Note the commas around “Jr.” in the penultimate line:‡
Here’s the equivalent text from the third edition (1979). The commas are now gone:
What happened? (And what would Strunk have thought?)
“Jr.” Isn’t Parenthetic After All
It evidently occurred to White (or to someone working behind the scenes) that “Jr.” and “Sr.”—unlike abbreviations for academic degrees—belong to a name in a way that cannot be considered parenthetic: “Although Junior, with its abbreviation Jr., has commonly been regarded as parenthetic, logic suggests that it is, in fact, restrictive and therefore not in need of a comma” (The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. [New York: Macmillan, 1979], p. 3).
Translation: “Jr.” and “Sr.” identify which person—for example, either Strunk Jr. of Elements fame or his father, Strunk Sr.—and are therefore restrictive.
And that’s how Strunk lost his comma.
Chicago continued to recommend the traditional commas until 1993, when the 14th edition was published, having missed the opportunity to update its advice for the 13th edition, published in 1982.
Paragraph 6.43 in the 17th edition reiterates the advice from the last few editions that commas are not required when “Jr.” and “Sr.” follow a name—and that they are never used to set off suffixes like “II” and “III.”
† As you may have noticed in the quotation from the original Elements, Strunk wrote lowercase “jr.” when referring to it apart from the name, an idiosyncratic choice that would persist until the second edition of Strunk & White was published in 1972. Strunk also wrote “non-restrictive”; the hyphen disappeared in the first edition of Strunk & White in 1959.
‡ William Strunk Jr.’s complex place in the copyright statement of Strunk & White reflects the last edition published under Strunk’s name before Macmillan acquired the rights to the book in the late 1950s: The Elements and Practice of Composition (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1935), by William Strunk Jr. and Cornell instructor Edward A. Tenney. For more details, including the role of Oliver Strunk, William Jr.’s son, see Mark Garvey, Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” (New York: Touchstone, 2009), p. 68.