So how is he Joe Kennedy “the Third?” It doesn’t add up…


I’ve learned a lot from my study of my family tree, and not just about my own genealogy. I’ve learned about history in greater detail, and about families in general, and the ways people lived in the past.

I’ve learned, for instance, that people used to get married a lot. I had long known that my great-grandfather Warthen and his father had each had three wives. And I had thought that was weird, that there must be some Henry VIII-ish streak in my line. From studying my tree further back, I’ve learned how common that was in past centuries. At first, I thought that was because of wives dying in childbirth (I have reason to think that happened to my great-grandmother). But I’ve run across quite a few women with two and three husbands — especially when you get back into the middle ages, when men frequently died in battle or backed the wrong team and got beheaded.

This was Joe Jr. So how was his nephew "Joe II?"

This was Joe Jr. So how was his nephew “Joe II?”

I’ve even sorta kinda come to understand the “removed” business with cousins. Sometimes I can hold on to that understanding for as much as 30 seconds before it slips away from me.

But this week, I find myself confused about naming conventions.

Tuesday night, the Democratic response was given by this young kid named Joseph Patrick Kennedy III. I looked at him, and immediately thought, No, no, no; they’ve got that wrong. Joe Kennedy III is about my age, and was in Congress decades ago.

But then I looked it up, and saw that that Joe Kennedy was called “the second,” not the third, and then I was really mixed up.

As I said on Twitter earlier today:

OK, there was old Joe Kennedy, the patriarch. Then there was the one killed in the war. Then there was this one’s father. So how is THIS one “the third?” I’m counting four…

I didn’t embed that tweet so I could give you links to help keep it straight.

It starts with his father being the second, which he shouldn’t have been — unless his family was making a statement and only naming him after his grandfather and not the war hero uncle, or vice versa. At least they said II and not junior, since his Dad was RFK.

But why wasn’t he the third?

Wikipedia says of the son of RFK that “He was named after his grandfather Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., the patriarch of the Kennedy family.[a] ” OK. And that is why he was “II” instead of “junior,” since his father did not bear that name. Fine. But there was another between them, although not in direct succession, also named for the old man. So, since once you get into numbers instead of juniors it’s not necessarily about who your father was, why wasn’t he the third?

A famous dynasty should have a better, clearer grip on naming conventions. Or maybe there’s a rule I just don’t understand. Can anyone enlighten me?

Maybe we should just do like the Russians and the Welsh and the Vikings and the Irish and use patronymics — Josefovich, ap Joseph, Josephsen, O’Joseph — and scrap the numbers, if they’re not going to be more helpful than this…


23 thoughts on “So how is he Joe Kennedy “the Third?” It doesn’t add up…

  1. Claus2

    The Kennedy genes are getting to the point where they’re washed out… he has the Kennedy name, but not the Kennedy buck teeth. One more generation and those outside of Boston will be saying “Kennedy who???”. It’ll be like running into someone these days with the name Jefferson or Washington.

  2. Lynn Teague

    Sounds like they are just going with direct line of descent.

    Even with Jr. it isn’t necessarily about direct line of descent. There are all sorts of ways that this can be confusing. For one thing, adult males who are the first of their name haven’t always used “Sr.”, relying on the young folks to add their “Jr.” Also, we can get into what is actually the same name. In my Shuler family, Johann Daniel Shuler was known as Daniel, but didn’t use Sr.. So, his son, Daniel Shuler, did use Sr., Then, his nephew (my gr gr grandfather) became Jr. A family history insisted that Johann Daniel had to be Sr., and misinterpreted references to Daniel Shuler Jr. as the person who actually used Sr. Which also had the effect of giving the impression that Johann Daniel Shuler had one heck of a long lifespan.

    In summary, i just go with whatever they call themselves, if I can tell.

  3. Burl Burlingame

    I’m a jr. When I registered for college in Missouri, they asked why I wanted a Bachelors in Journalism when I already had a doctorate in Education. That’s how I found out they had been sent my fathers transcripts.

    Since royalty and lines of succession aren’t really relevant in the United States, they go by whatever the parents write on the birth certificate.

    For what it’s worth, my wife the newspaper editor has noticed in the birth announcements an uptick of people naming their baby Royal or King or Queen or whatever sounds “special.”

  4. Barry

    Fox News Star Tomi Lahren called Rep Kennedy a very crude name and was forced to apologize. The Fox News Conservative, who admits to still being on mommy and daddy’s health insurance because of the ACA, isn’t much for government programs but is ok with taking advantage of their benefits.

    Apparently he earned the disgusting name because he had the audacity to disagree with Dear Leader Trump.

    1. Claus2

      So a conservative newscaster is required to apologize for calling a liberal politician a derogatory name, yet every liberal newscaster can call the sitting President a derogatory name and nothing is said?

      1. Barry

        It wasn’t just derogatory. It was lewd and disgusting and 100% unnecessary. She could have, had she chosen, to be very critical of him without the nasty comment. But as is her style, she usually jumps out over her skis and serves her role as the “very angry commentator.”

        Heck, even Fox News forced her to apologize.

        1. Richard

          What I read was that it wasn’t any worse than what we used to hear nightly with Viagra or Cialis commercials. I’ve described plenty of incompetent people something similar.

            1. Richard

              Howard Stern would disagree. He gets paid millions to say these things and has a larger audience than she does.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                That’s because he, like his buddy Donald Trump, is a professional jerk.

                What Stern does is trash radio, meant for people who like trash. You can’t speak of civilized standards with regard to such people. To them, standards exist only to be violated…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Stern is probably one of the few people who have dragged Trump down by association. Usually, it’s Trump dragging down the people who affiliate with him

                2. Richard

                  Well that touched a nerve… I’m not a Howard Stern fan but he has made a very good living at what he does. I’d take his salary over someone say at PBS anyday.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    … and what does that have to do with anything? Are you actually saying that someone who makes a lot of money being an a__hole somehow isn’t an a__hole?

                    I’ll take integrity over sleaze any day…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Actually I suppose that belief — “that someone who makes a lot of money being an a__hole somehow isn’t an a__hole” — underlies a lot of Trump’s support, doesn’t it?

                3. Claus2

                  I think that earning millions means that Stern has reached the top of the radio morning show DJ profession, I guess he could be earning $10/hr working for NPR… but in newspaper journalism terms would you rather be the Managing Editor of National Enquirer or a printer operator at The State?

                4. Claus2

                  “I’d rather be at The State, but not in the pressroom. I’m not qualified for that…”

                  Okay, Obituary Editor then…

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