Advertisement

Last names (plurals and possessives)

Names are nouns, and they are made plural and possessive like other regular nouns. For instance, four men named John are four Johns, and the hats the Johns are wearing are the four Johns’ hats. This is simple enough, yet when it comes to last names, there are several common errors that many people make.

Plural last names

Making a last name plural should never involve an apostrophe. The members of the Johnson and Smith families, for instance, are the Johnsons and the Smiths, not the Johnson’s and the Smith’s.

Last names ending in are no different. Most nouns ending in are pluralized by adding es. This applies to last names as well. The members of the Edwards and Doss families are the Edwardses and the Dosses, not the Edwards’s and the Doss’s. Your spell check might disapprove of the correct forms, but spell check is wrong on this matter. If you understandably find words like Edwardses a little too awkward, consider rewording to avoid the plural. For instance, the Edwardses can become the Edwards family or the Edwards household.


Advertisement

There is one important way in which plural last names differ from other plurals: the last syllable of names ending in does not become ies when made plural. The members of the Kennedy and the Clancy families are the Kennedys and the Clancys, not the Kennedies and the Clancies.

Possessive last names

When it comes to possessives, last names are, again, like other nouns. We make names that don’t end in possessive by adding ‘s—for example, Mr. Johnson’s hatMs. Smith’s umbrella. There are two schools of thought regarding singular nouns, including singular last names, ending in s. Some make these words possessive by adding ‘s (Mr. Jones’s houseMs. Doss’s car), and some add only an apostrophe (Mr. Jones’ houseMs. Doss’ car). Some English reference books recommend the former approach and some the latter, and some say both are acceptable. Purists tend to prefer the former, which is more traditional.

Advertisement

Check Your Text

Comments

  1. Thanks for the post!

    Quick quibble: Last paragraph says “plural” when it should say “possessive.”

  2. So a hat belonging to the Edwards family be the Edwardses’ hat? That’s correct, despite having too many syllables to comfortably pronounce, right?

  3. Carrie Jones says:

    If you say the Edwards household, would you not use an apostrophe? Is it the household of or belonging to the Edwards? Or is it not used because Edwards becomes an adjective describing the household? (I loved this post – I am often defending my use of Joneses on writing. People think that is incorrect!)

    • So my name is Ms. Johns. So how would I say “Welcome to Ms. Johns’s class”…. or “Ms. Johns’ class”?

      • Grammarist says:

        This is one that goes both ways, depending on editorial preference. We (the writers of this site) would make it “Ms. Johns’s class,” as would many of our favorite publishers, but “Ms. Johns’ class” is certainly not uncommon and would appear in many edited texts. Style conventions are always evolving, and at this moment there is gray area on this issue.

  4. trentrockport says:

    For singular nouns, how do you pronounce the alternatives? Famously, Shays’ Rebellion is never spelled with the final s, nor is it pronounced. Miley Cyrus’ performance the final “s” seems to be pronounced whether present or absent.

    • Shays’ Rebellion is a famous event and is contracted from its proper form out of convention not proper usage. It should be Shays’s Rebellion. Again, no one likes the z-z of Shays’s so they spell the way they speak. Not correct in general writing unless you want to be conversational.

  5. Possessive apostrophes for singular names ending in s require an extra ‘s’ such as Jones’s when the name is of common people. (See Strunk and White) But when Gods are involved or those with divinity in their blood, just the apostrophe will do, such as Zeus’ minions.

  6. Matt Dalton says:

    I have a question, at new year I was invited to a party at the home of Mr and Mrs (Dr) Berry.
    So the invite was to “@ The Berries”.
    Because they are two of them…however, surely plural of Berry as a surname is Berrys.
    Have you seen the Berrys lately…rather than adopting the normal version of the noun.
    However, as this was at their house I thought…is it “…at the Berry’s “? or to be more confusing, the plural and possessive..?? The Berrys’ house?
    cheers

    • Susan Granade says:

      IF THE NAME DOES NOT ALREADY HAVE AN “S” ON IT:
      The Berrys invited us to a party at their house. (just plural)
      We went Dr. Berry’s house. (singular possessive)
      We went to the Berrys’ house. (plural possessive)

      IF THE NAME ALREADY HAS AN “S” ON IT:
      The Robertses invited us to a party at their house. (just plural)
      We went to Dr. Roberts’s house. (singular possessive)
      We went to the Robertses’ house. (plural possessive)

      • “IF TWO ROBERTS ARE LIVING TOGETHER”

        This would be less confusing if you used a different name than Robert for this, since the name Roberts was used as a plural surname earlier and a plural Christian name here.

        Other than that, I found your guidelines easier to understand than the explanations in the post. I’m going to send them to my dad, who was confused about spelling our name – The Davises, The Davises’, and Avery Davis’s. Thank you!

        *Question

        How would you spell it if you were asking “How many Avery Davises did you find on Facebook?”

        • Susan Granade says:

          Avery, thank you for your kind words! I am so glad you found my post helpful. Actually, the way you have it in your question is correct. You would say, “Did you find an Avery Davis on Facebook?” and you’d say, “How many Avery Davises did you find on Facebook?” No apostrophe needs to be involved since you have a plural situation, not a possessive situation.

          • Susan Granade says:

            I guess I’d add that you should always make a name plural first if it needs to be. Only then should you make it possessive. Also, remember that if a name ends with an “s” you cannot remove the “s” or press it into service as a possessive. You have to deal with it as it is. Years ago, my mother and stepfather received a complimentary cookie jar with the following on it: The Boltons Cookies. The senders got it right in a way because they’d acknowledged that the cookies would be for more than one Bolton. However, they failed to take the second step and make the plural also possessive. It should have been The Boltons’ Cookies. IF the name had had an “s” on it, the steps would go like this: The Sanders Cookies (Wrong because it isn’t plural!); The Sanderses Cookies (Half right because the cookies are for all the family); The Sanderses’ Cookies (Finally all correct because it now both plural AND possessive!)

          • Ross Leavitt says:

            Thanks for your clarity on this! I’ve actually been wondering about how to use the plural possessive of a family name for a long time. I just wanted to double-check one usage:

            “We’re going to the Joneses’ tonight.”

            Right? This has always seemed correct to me, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone spell it this way, so I have always wondered whether I was missing something. Thanks again for your confident-sounding help!

          • Susan Granade says:

            Thank you for your thanks, Ross! I really appreciate that. If a surname needs to be both plural and possessive, make it plural first, then make it possessive.

            Let’s say you have a friend whose first name is Jones. Maybe he’s Jones Leavitt. If you say you are going to his house tonight, you don’t have to make it plural. That’s his name just the way it is. So it should be
            “We’re going to Jones’s house tonight.”

            That’s the same as “We’re going to Jim’s house tonight.”

            But if you are going to the house of a family by the name Jones, the house belongs to all of them, so you want to make it plural first. They are the Joneses. Adding the “es” makes the name plural. Just because there is an “s” at the end doesn’t mean the name is plural, so you have to make it plural. THEN you make it possessive.

            (only plural)
            “The Joneses have invited us and tonight we are
            (plural and possessive)
            going to the Joneses’ house.”

            Does this make sense?

            I know of a little boy named Mays. If I visited him, I’d be going to Mays’s house. You can’t use the “s” already on it for a possessive.
            If you said you are going to May’s house, you’ve destroyed the integrity of his name.

            But if you have a Mrs. Mays and a Mr. Mays and Sarah Mays and Jordan Mays and they are a family, they are the Mayses (plural) and if you visit them, you will go to the Mayses’ house.

            Hope this clears things up!

          • Ross Leavitt says:

            Thanks so much Susan! That makes a lot of sense, and I won’t ever have to wonder about that usage again.

          • Susan Granade says:

            I tried for years and years to get middle school children to learn this kind of stuff, but most weren’t interested. It is wonderful to be able to impart these tips to someone who cares!

          • Motorcityjoe611 says:

            I can’t believe I screwed this up. Just talking about it tonight and I’m an artist and writer. My last name ends in an I, and if I don’t add the ‘s it changes the look and pronunciation of my name. I had a metal sign made and did the ‘s thing. So embarrassed now.

          • Susan Granade says:

            You could have
            The Borri Cottage (just the name)
            The Borris (These are the people who live here.)
            The Borris’ (possession of more than one unspecified Borri)
            John Borri’s Cottage (possession of one Borri)
            John and Mary Borri’s Cottage (possession of a couple)

  7. So….we are the Groves family. Christmas at the Groves’s?

    • Susan Granade says:

      Christmas at the Groveses’ house.
      Name itself: Groves
      All members of the family: the Groves[es]
      Belonging to all the members of the family: the Groves[es’]

  8. John Kincinas says:

    So the plural of any proper name, like Ron, would be Rons? Is that correct? And the plural possessive would be Rons’?

  9. Carla DiCastro Banks says:

    I am making a banner for my husband’s home gym and I want to make sure it reads correctly. Our last name is Banks so should it read Banks Gym or Banks’ Gym?

  10. What about a last name ending in ‘z,’ like Fritz? “Merry Christmas from the Fritzes”…? “The Fritz’s boat”…? Are those both correct usages?

  11. mindy hamond says:

    Is this spelling correct of last name Coppes if I wanted to write : That dish came from Grandma Coppeses’ house.

  12. I am pretty sure that i know the answer to this, but here’s the situation. My family is going camping next week, and my daughter-in-law had a sign made up for the campsite. Our family name is Berken. She ordered the sign to say “The Berkens’ Campsite” and lo and behold, it came back like this: “The Berken’s Campsite.” We both had agreed before she ordered it that it should say The Berkens’ Campsite. So, not only did they get it wrong, they didn’t put on the sign what she had asked for, and they tried to correct what they thought was an error. I said that she should contact them and ask why they made a sign different from what was ordered, and why they thought “Berken’s” was correct! I would ask for a new sign (even though it would not come in time for this trip),but could be used for other trips. What do you think?

  13. Eric Kahn says:

    this saved me some embarrasment.

  14. so, should you ever have “The Koehler’s” without it modifying any subject? Someone is arguing that, on a wreath on the front door, “House” is implied.

  15. If your forwarding a resume for someone else how should this read?
    Ex;
    I am forwarding Jane Doe resume for your review.
    OR
    I am forwarding Jane Doe’s resume for your review.

  16. What if the last letter of one’s name sounds like a ‘s’ sound but is another letter [i.e. Shulz, Cox, Marx, etc.] Could/would those be Shulz’ / Cox’ / Marx/ or Shulzes’ / Coxes’ / Marxes’ ???

  17. Chris Erwin says:

    So with last name “Erwin”….how would I label a business name called …
    The Erwin’s Southern Delights? Is is ERWIN’S or ERWINS’S

  18. You don’t mention plural possessives–If the family name is Michelangelo and you want to refer to THEIR home, I assume it would be The Michelangelos’ [house, car, etc.], and not The Michelangelo’s ? I assume this doesn’t change even if you omit the noun? (i.e., Tonight I am going to the Michelangelos’ for dinner.) Is that correct?

    It looks very weird on names ending in vowels. This rule was presumably established long ago with English names mind, but it causes most Italian last names to end up looking Greek.

Speak Your Mind

advertisement
About Grammarist
Contact | Privacy policy | Home
© Copyright 2009-2014 Grammarist

Sign up for our mailing list

Sign up for our mailing list