How to Treat Names of Groups and Organizations

By Mark Nichol

Proper names create challenges for writers and editors trying to identify an organizational entity in a way that is both accurate and graceful. For example, in general, if you would precede the name of an entity with the article the in speech, do so in writing, and if not, don’t.

This rule applies to organizations:

“Your charitable donation to the March of Dimes helps fund our mission,” not “Your charitable donation to March of Dimes helps fund our mission.” (The organization’s Web site lists the copyright holder as “March of Dimes Foundation,” with no article, but refers to itself throughout the site as “the March of Dimes.”)

“Save the Children has instituted rigorous standards in the communities it supports,” not “The Save the Children has instituted rigorous standards in the communities it supports.” (“One could write “the Save the Children philanthropic organization” to provide context, but “the philanthropic organization Save the Children” is more elegant.)

It is also relevant to corporations:

“GlaxoSmithKline PLC is headquartered in London,” not “The GlaxoSmithKline PLC is headquartered in London.”

“The Dow Chemical Company is headquartered in Midland, Michigan,” not “Dow Chemical Company is headquartered in Midland, Michigan.” (But a short form of the name would not be preceded by the article: “Dow is headquartered in Midland, Michigan.”

Usage in corporation names complicates matters somewhat, however. Some firms that include company in their name precede the name with the, and others don’t. (Careful writers and editors will check company literature for proper usage, or delegate the task to a fact-checker.) The same problem occurs when corporation is part of the name: For example, Microsoft Corporation omits the in its official corporate name, but many other such entities include it, as in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Number agreement of proper nouns and verbs is also a significant issue. For example, in American English, names of music ensembles, whether orchestras or pop groups, are matched with singular or plural verbs depending on the name:

“Led Zeppelin was an English rock band,” not “Led Zeppelin were an English rock band.”

“The Beatles were an English rock band,” “Not the Beatles was an English rock band.” (Note, also, that the, when it precedes a band name, is not capitalized, even if band documentation uses a capitalized the.)

However, British English employs plural verbs regardless of the form of the band name: “Led Zeppelin were an English rock band,” and “The Beatles were an English rock band.”

In the United States, names of athletic teams are always treated as plural, regardless of whether the name is a singular or plural term:

“The Magic are headquartered in Orlando, Florida,” not “The Magic is headquartered in Orlando, Florida.” (Note that the house style of the New York Times is an exception.)

“The Giants are headquartered in San Francisco,” not “The Giants is headquartered in San Francisco.” (But “The San Francisco Giants baseball team is in the National League of Major League Baseball,” and “The team is headquartered in San Francisco.”)

In American English usage, metonymic team references, in which a team is referred to by the place name rather than the mascot name, are in singular form: “Orlando is on its way to the playoffs,” and “San Francisco is in a slump.”

In the United Kingdom and other countries where British English is standard, a distinction is made between the organization and the athletes as a group: In the former case, the singular form is used (“The Manchester United Football Club is the most successful football club in England”), but the plural form prevails in the latter case (“Manchester United are ahead by one point”).

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9 Responses to “How to Treat Names of Groups and Organizations”

  • Kristin

    This was very helpful as always. I was told that you should never add an “‘s” to a company or brand name, e.g. Nestle’s staff. Is this true? What are your thoughts?

  • Carole Devine

    Aren’t the following two statements contradictory? I don’t get it.

    “GlaxoSmithKline PLC is headquartered in London,” not “The GlaxoSmithKline PLC is headquartered in London.”

    “The Dow Chemical Company is headquartered in Midland, Michigan,” not “Dow Chemical Company is headquartered in Midland, Michigan.” (But a short form of the name would not be preceded by the article: “Dow is headquartered in Midland, Michigan.”

  • Ed Buckner

    The Environmental Protection Agency recently released style guidance saying that the word the should always preceed both Environmental Protection Agency and EPA. It is common for people to say EPA and not the EPA, but now we have our guidance.

  • Mark Nichol

    Kristin:

    I’ve never heard of this prohibition, and I don’t think it’s valid. You could certainly construct a sentence to avoid the possessive — “Nestle staff received the memo on Friday” — but there’s no reason to go out of your way to do so.

  • Mark Nichol

    Carole:

    Sorry about the confusion. I should have made this passage clearer. A corporate name that includes abbreviations such as Inc. and LLC should not be preceded by the. (Such appendages, by the way, may usually be safely amputated.)

    Names followed by Corporation and Company may or may not be preceded by the, depending on the firm’s style. Familiar corporate names such as Microsoft and Dow usually don’t need a formal recitation of the full name; in that case, always omit the regardless of style for the full name.

    (There are always exceptions: The familiar name of the Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. is “the Hartford.” The company would have you capitalize the, but that’s a lot to ask.)

  • Mark Nichol

    Ed:

    I initially thought it odd that the EPA cares enough about how others refer to it to issue a guideline — who would say it wrong? — but I can just picture lobbyists tossing around comments like “EPA is up in arms about that” and “My friend at EPA told me.”

  • Linda

    Perhaps you can help me with this one, which has always stumped me. When referring to a private school, which has a plural title, since it has two campuses, and is thus called, “Coventry Christian Schools” on it’s letterhead, is it correct to refer to them as singular or plural? For example, would it be correct to say, “Coventry Christian Schools is closed today because of snow,” or “Coventry Christian Schools are closed today because of snow”?

  • Mark Nichol

    I think either singular or plural is fine, but I would alter the plural choice slightly:

    “Coventry Christian Schools is closed today because of snow” refers to a single entity. (It’s analogous to a corporation called World Wide Widgets; the product is plural, but the corporation is a single entity.)

    “The Coventry Christian Schools are closed today because of snow” (note the insertion of the at the beginning of the sentence) identifies the entity as consisting of more than one part.

  • venqax

    But what if it is not snowing? Is either equally incorrect?

    Sorry, couldn’t help it.

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