Apostrophe Placement in Proper Names

By Mark Nichol

What do the brand names Bakers Choice, the Diners Club, and Mrs. Fields Cookies have in common? Besides prompting hunger, they’re all “supposed” to have apostrophes in their names.

So, why don’t they? A choice that belongs to bakers is a bakers’ choice, a club that belongs to diners is a diners’ club, and cookies that belong to Mrs. Fields are Mrs. Fields’s (or, depending on which style tradition you adhere to, Mrs. Fields’) cookies. The name for the Diners Club gets a pass because it can also be argued that it refers to a club for diners, and thus is attributive (for the same reason that, for example, the name of the California Teachers Association lacks an apostrophe — it serves, rather than is a possession of, teachers).

But the baking-products company and the cookie maker, like Barclays Bank and many other businesses, evidently decided that apostrophes are confusing or distracting and opted to omit them. Similarly, the Hells Angels opted for a streamlined look at the expense of proper style, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to walk into the local chapter headquarters and start complaining about the motorcycle club’s error. (You go ahead — I’ll wait for you here.)

The Levi’s brand name for jeans and other apparel is problematic; technically, something that belongs to the company would be referred to as Levi’s’s, but we’ll yield to practicality and pretend that the owner is Mr. Strauss, and anything of his is Levi’s. And though I prefer that the possessive case be signaled with an apostrophe and an s, not the symbol alone, though “Thomas’s” would look better, I’ll cut Thomas’ English Muffins some slack.

But the one company name that is indefensibly wrong is Lands’ End; this labels clumsily conjures multiple capes or points converging on one geographical coordinate. The misplaced apostrophe is reportedly the result of an early typographical error deemed too costly to correct; on such small but momentous decisions is derision based.

Regardless of which possessive style you or your employer prefers, when it comes to proper names, writers and editors must bow to the usage of a name’s owners — and in order to guarantee that the usage you use is correct, verify company, organization, and brand names on the website of the business or group itself.

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9 Responses to “Apostrophe Placement in Proper Names”

  • Genevieve Graham

    I was JUST working on that problem today, writing articles for our local Farmers’ Market … though of course they’ve called it plain old Farmers Market. Their signs and logo don’t use the apostrophe, but I’m including it in all articles. I can’t help it. It’s physically impossible for me to leave them out!

  • Ian

    Thanks for this.
    Your slipping in a plural “labels” (in “this labels clumsily conjures multiple capes”) was a clever ploy to ensure we all read the sentence multiple times and fully understood it! It certainly wouldn’t have been clumsy of you?

    If Levi was his name, then surely Levi’s would be correct?
    And you mean to tell me that it wasn’t a Mr Lands who met his end there? After all these years….

  • Ian

    Sorry. I have just realised what you were saying about Levi’s. I was so excited about finding an error….

  • Ray

    “. . . this labels clumsily conjures multiple capes or points converging on one geographical coordinate.”

    Huh?

  • venqax

    There was actually a semi-public debate on this point within the US govt regarding whether it should be the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Veteran Affairs, or Veterans Affairs. The last, sans the apostrophe, eventually won out (tho you will see it written with the apostrophe in some govt. docs, too). That seems fine to me. Veterans is serving “like” an adjective and Affairs as the noun; the Affairs of Veterans. Likewise Farmers Market would seem fine under that argument.

    However, I admit I’m biased and feel about the apostrophe like I do whom– it is often an unnecessary retention that adds nothing crucial to meaning. I think when something is being used as a possessive, it’s usually pretty evident via context. There is certainly no distinction in spoken language. “I’m brining my kids’ toys” and, “I’m brining my kids toys.” Yeah, there is a different meaning there in writing. “I’m going to my friends house”– or my friend’s house, or my friends’ house. No difference. If its not possessive it doesn’t make any sense at all. OTOH, I do think that as long as the apostrophe is required, it should be used consistently. So Thomas’s, Hendricks’s, Shays’s, etc., meaning pronounced as well, hend-rik-sez, shayz-es, etc.

    I think the apostrophes in normal words are even more anachronistic pains-in-the-bo’m . Im, dont, cant, wouldnt, shouldnt, didnt, youre– are the meanings of any of these unclear? How many centuries old does a contraction have to be before it graduates to worddom?

  • Jevon

    Interesting stuff. I never really thought of that. Too bad Lands’ End made such a costly error.

  • Jan Christensen

    Then there’s Dr Pepper. Yes, without the period. Do you happen to know the story behind that? I don’t, but I always notice when someone puts the period in.

  • venqax

    You’re right about Dr Pepper, never thought about it before. Since it is a logo as well as a name, it may have to do with aesthetics, which is a bigger concern than grammmar is for a brand. I think (as has been mentioned on here) that in British usage the period after abbreviations like Dr, Mr, Mrs, is usually left off. Makes sense, IMO, like the superfluous apostrophes mentioned above. Simply unnecessary. Does anyone really think that Mrs or Dr are words rather than an abbreviations, or not know what they are abbreviating?

  • Don Ainslie

    I was taught to omit the extra “s” for classical names and “Jesus” – thus “Jesus’ clothes”. Comment?

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