What's in a jersey name? For more and more NFL players, it's Sr., Jr., III, IV, V

Robert Griffin III was the first of a wave of NFL players to add a suffix to their jersey nameplates. Al Bello/Getty Images

It started with Robert Griffin III. When the Heisman Trophy winner was at Baylor, the back of his jersey carried more than his last name. With it was an extra signifier.

On the field in college he was known as "Griffin III" and after being drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2012, he became the first NFL player to have a Roman numeral on his back, according to UniWatch research. At the time, Griffin seemed he might be an outlier. He turned out to be a trend-setter.

NFL players have continued to add generational titles to the nameplates on the backs of their jerseys -- an explosion of Sr., Jr., III, IV and V across the league. It seems as if almost every team has at least one player with a suffix behind his given name on his jersey.

"I do think more guys are doing it," said Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate, who has the Roman numeral "III" on his jersey. "I think it looks better."

Like many other players, Tate began his career, then with the Seahawks, as just "Tate." Then, when he was allowed to make the change after Griffin's jersey move in 2012, Tate eventually added the Roman numerals.

The meaning, though, is deeper than cosmetics. It's a personal decision that varies by player.

"I don't know," Tate said. "Maybe so the world can know that they are not the first Golden Tate, there's the second, third, fourth, fifth. It's just another way. Ask someone else that."

We did. And every nameplate has a story -- a reason the extra letters or numerals are put there.

Marvin Jones Jr. never thought of it at first. Sure, he was "Jr.," but at Cal and during his four years in Cincinnati, it was never something he considered. The Bengals just put "M. Jones" on his jersey -- Cincinnati had multiple Joneses on the roster at the time -- and he was OK with it.

Then he went to Detroit. And he decided he wanted to start fresh. Included in that was a name change. To honor his father and the relationship they have, he asked the Lions to make his nameplate "Jones Jr."

"Not even thinking about me, when I think about my dad, I know he's proud that he can say, ‘Hey, I'm Marvin Jones Sr. Like, yeah, that's my son. I raised him,'" the younger Jones said. "Instead of being Marvin Jones, Marvin Jones. He's like, ‘Yeah, I'm Senior. This is my son, Marvin Jones Jr.'

"That's what he does. He did it one time when I was back home in San Diego. It's cool."

It's also turned into a family tradition. Jones Jr.'s oldest son is also named Marvin Jones, and Marvin Jones III has already started playing football. His team has individual names on the back, and Jones Jr.'s kid already is carrying on the tradition with "Jones III." And it's translating beyond football, too.

"Yeah, he already has the signature, too," Jones Jr. said. "It's crazy. And it almost mimics mine and I was a good penman when I was his age. But literally, if he were to sign it, he could sign it on a football card.

"I was like, ‘Marvin, you better not get no report cards that I don't get that you sign because you didn't pass.' "

-- Michael Rothstein

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon said he asked when he came into the league as a rookie in 2015 to include the "III" on his jersey, but the NFL said no.

Gordon said he had the Roman numeral on his jersey at Wisconsin his final two years there but did not have the suffix on his jersey in high school.

The Pro Bowler said he did not ask to add the suffix on his jersey his second season, but he and Melvin Ingram (who's also a III) both tried to get it on the back of their jersey in time for the 2017 season. The league said it would add the number, but it was too late for '17 because of all the jerseys in inventory that had been produced. So both will have to wait until next year.

"It means a lot," Gordon said. "It's mainly for my dad, that's what you do it for, for your pops. When you see that 'III' on there, you know that I came from him. So that's what it is, and why I'll go for it -- for my pops on game day."

–- Eric D. Williams

If Earl Thomas' grandfather had his way, the Seattle Seahawks' All-Pro free safety might have been doing something entirely different on Sundays. Earl Sr. was a pastor in Orange, Texas, and didn't like the idea of his grandson playing football.

"He wanted me in church," Thomas said. "He didn't really believe in football like that, but he's definitely dear to my heart, and I definitely miss him."

Earl Sr. passed away in 2010, during his grandson's rookie season. Thomas decided in the 2013 season to add "III" to the nameplate on his jersey to honor his grandfather -- "the rock of the whole family" -- and also his dad, who introduced him to the game.

"He kind of turned me into this guy that just loves football with all his heart," Thomas said of his father. "So I owe it to them. I definitely want to make that name proud."

Thomas and his wife have a young daughter named Kaleigh Rose. He thought they'd name their son Earl if they ever had one, but now he isn't sure.

"I might end it with me," he said with a smile.

–- Brady Henderson

Mark Ingram finally added the "II" to the back of his jersey this season -- something the son of former NFL standout wide receiver Mark Ingram said he has always been interested in doing.

"Well, that's my name, for one," said Ingram, who has always kept a close relationship with his father and recently announced that he and his wife are expecting their first boy -- whom they plan to name Mark Ingram III -- in March.

Ingram said it had nothing to do with a growing trend of jersey suffixes around the NFL. It was simply a matter of finally deciding to do it -- then waiting for NFL approval.

The league doesn't immediately approve name or number switches, especially with high-profile players, because of the number of jerseys that are produced and licensed for sale to the public. A player can speed up the process if he agrees to purchase the remaining inventory.

Ingram went through a similar process earlier in his career when he changed numbers, from 28 to 22.

-- Mike Triplett

Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. first had "Jr." added to the back of his jersey in his sophomore year at Florida, just before the team's game against LSU. He did it out of respect for his father, Dante Fowler Sr.

"I'm a little version of him, so just wanting to get 'Jr.' so people actually know who I am," said the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Fowler. "It was just respect to my dad. Being able to have the 'Jr.' on the back of my jersey meant a lot.

"Everybody knew who my dad was and stuff like that when I was growing up so they just called me DJ or Junior. So I just put the junior on the back [of my jersey]."

Fowler wishes he had better memories of his first game with it added to his jersey. The Gators lost 17-6 to LSU that day in 2013.

"I had a big hit on Jeremy Hill, but it was a rough game," he said. "A hard-nose, downhill football game. We didn't win but it was all right."

­-- Michael DiRocco

It's how he brings his kids with him on the field. He can't see the back of the jersey when he plays, but Detroit Lions safety Tavon Wilson Sr. recently added the suffix to his name because he saw it as a way to show he's a father -- and a proud one.

"I do that to represent my kids," Wilson said. "Both of my kids, their last names are after me. Tavon Wilson Jr. and I'm Senior. I do it to represent both my boys on the field."

It's a change Wilson made before the 2016 season, when he went from the Patriots to the Lions. A lot was shifting for Wilson at that point. After primarily playing special teams in New England, he'd have a chance to compete for a starting job -- a role he eventually won -- in Detroit.

This was a way to signify that, too. New name on the back. New player on the field.

"I kind of wanted a fresh start," Wilson said. "And give my career new meaning. And I wanted to play for my boys."

-- Michael Rothstein

It started with a question from George Johnson's son. "Dad," he asked, "Why didn't you put Jr." on your jersey? George Johnson III is 5 years old. He already plays football. And on his back is "Johnson III." But his dad had just gone by Johnson throughout his NFL career.

But the precocious question from his child started him thinking. Then another person asked him whether he didn't do it because he had a bad relationship with his father. He doesn't, so it became another reason to go for it.

So this year, for the first time in his career, George Johnson now has "Johnson Jr." on the back of his jersey.

"It's a legacy being passed along, to see your name continue to be moving and see your name in greater spotlight," Johnson Jr. said. "Things like that. That's the biggest reason why."

After Johnson's first game back in Detroit in Week 3, his son came up to him. And in the way only a child can, he pointed out that his father was doing something different.

"He didn't mention it to me. Well, he kind of did," Johnson said. "He said, ‘You've got something on after Johnson like I have on mine.'"

Consider that a legacy passed up and down.

-- Michael Rothstein

Tramaine Brock flew solo for the first seven years of his NFL career.

When his son, Tramaine Jr., was born on Sept. 29, 2015, everything in his world changed -- including his game day get-up.

This season, the nameplate on the back of cornerback's jersey changed from "Brock" to "Brock Sr." The elder Brock spent the preseason with the Seattle Seahawks, where he debuted his new digs before being traded to the Vikings right before cuts day. He's the only player on Minnesota's roster with a suffix on his jersey. It's a gesture he made in honor of his child, whom he hopes to share his memories of the game with when the littlest Brock grows up.

"It's just something for the future for me and my son," Brock said. "He can look up to me when he gets older, seeing my jersey with 'Sr.' on it, knowing his father was doing what he maybe wants to do when he gets older."

-- Courtney Cronin