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May 30, 2006

Product Naming: To Apostrophe or Not to Apostrophe

Eats, Shoots and LeavesElements of StyleAh, the apostrophe. Take the quiz over at the , and you’ll find that according to Lynne Truss and British usage (not to mention my elementary-school grammar teachers, who were neither), the proper way to form the possessive of a noun (singular or plural) ending in an “s” is to insert the apostrophe after the “s.” But according to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and the , all possessive singular nouns are created by adding “’s” to the end.

Both sources do agree, however, that you never create a plural in English by adding “’s,” and you can’t create a possessive without an apostrophe. Hence “Albertsons” should be “Albertson’s” and “Fosters Freeze” should be “Foster’s Freeze.” And your neighbors across the street are not the “Smith’s.”

Business style guides, on the other hand, are unanimous in stating that the correct way to write a company’s name is the way the company itself writes it—no matter what your grammar-school teacher would say about it.

  • Missing apostrophe? Too bad.
  • Starts with a lower-case letter (think eMachines or iTunes)? Deal with it.
  • Leaves out the vowels (RAZR)? Too bad.
  • Throws us back to Shakespeare with “Amp’d” instead of “Amped”?

So be it—even if it leaves us memorizing many times more individual idiosyncracies than there are rules of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling in English.

I know from personal experience that a good brand names are hard to develop, and even harder to trademark.

But, as my high school English teacher used to say, "make sure that when you break the rules, you do it on purpose instead of by accident." That applies to name development, too.

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Posted by Diane Prange at May 30, 2006 11:49 AM
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