The name game: Life for the Johnsons and Joneses on the Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – In the wide receiver section of the Detroit Lions' locker room, the nameplates can become a little confusing. Marvin Jones Jr. has his usually messy locker stall. TJ Jones spends his time a couple of places down. And next to him is Andy Jones.

And this block of lockers has become a running joke among the receivers.

“We say this is the Jones block,” Marvin Jones said. “So nobody else can come, something like that. It’s fun all around.”

In Detroit, it’s also commonplace. On the team’s 90-man roster, one-tenth of the players are either a “Jones” or a “Johnson.” This isn’t totally out of line with the United States in general, as Johnson was the second-most common surname and Jones the fifth-most common surname in the 2010 census. But it has been a source of jokes and sometimes confusion as the number of Johnsons and Joneses has grown. (Coincidentally, the Lions have no Smiths on the roster – the most common U.S. surname in the last census).

There are five Joneses: Marvin, TJ and Andy at receiver, Christian Jones at linebacker and Chris Jones at cornerback. The four Johnsons reside mostly on the lines – Wesley is an offensive lineman, Cam and Toby are on the defensive line and rookie Kerryon is one of the team’s running backs.

And as common as those last names are, Detroit is the first stop where there has been an influx of them for some of the Joneses and Johnsons involved.

“I thought it would happen sooner,” Cam Johnson said. “But this is the first time it’s happened for me. It’s fun. I’m enjoying it. It’s like family.”

None of them, though, believes they are actually related. Some have tried to trace roots – or at least had the conversation with others – and nothing obvious has come up. An Ancestry.com search done by Toby Johnson about four years ago led to “all types of crazy stuff” – including learning he is 2-3 percent Scandinavian. It didn’t, though, give him any idea he’s connected to any of his current teammates in any way other than playing alongside one another.

The name game, though, has led to some confusion. Cam and Toby Johnson, who also have lockers next to each other, often end up getting back each other’s shirts and hooded sweatshirts from the team’s laundry.

Christian Jones, who arrived this offseason as a free agent from Chicago, has been receiving mail for other Joneses. He’ll look at it, laugh and then play mail carrier, delivering it to the correct Jones. That gets more confusing on wide receiver row, where all the Joneses are clustered together.

It also has offered an easy conversation topic when a new Jones or Johnson comes into the locker room. It’s a dad joke, for sure, but it can effectively start a getting-to-know-you session.

“It’s not something you can really control, so you notice it, you laugh about it,” TJ Jones said. “You might go talk to that person. That’s an icebreaker if you don’t know that person, so growing up it helped make friends and even now it helps make friends and helps you bond with players and brings up little stupid inside jokes.

“Especially the kind of jokes that you need during camp, when the days get long.”

Like the joke where TJ Jones wants to put “Jones Sr.” on his nameplate since Marvin Jones is actually “Marvin Jones Jr.” And every time one of the Johnsons or Joneses was asked about the commonality in the past few days, they all had the same reaction: a big smile.

Because it’s something they’ve talked about before – even if some of them didn’t realize how many there were. Toby Johnson forgot Kerryon Johnson’s last name because all he ever hears is “Kerryon, Kerryon, Kerryon.” And that’s how the obvious problem of screaming a last name and having a bunch of turned heads is solved.

Most Lions players go by nicknames or by first names or are addressed by number to keep everything straight.

“I hear 'Johnson,' whatever I’m doing, I’m still doing it until someone taps me and makes sure they get my attention,” Kerryon Johnson said. “I’m like, ‘OK, me.’ That’s how I do it, at least. I’m going to do my thing until someone tells me.”