Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Make Last Names Plural or Possessive

We're almost to that wonderful time of year when mailboxes fill up with lovely Christmas cards. I hope you'll include a family photo and send one to me--I love to cover my refrigerator with the faces of our family and friends!

In the meantime, please allow me to indulge my inner Grammar Nerd and pass along a few helpful tips for writing last names on cards or personalized gifts. Last names can be tricky to make plural or possessive--especially if the name ends in "s." We get easily confused because surnames like "Brooks" or "Woods" sound like they are already plural. So we leave them as-is, thinking the "s" on the end will suffice, resulting in phrasing like:
  • "Pray for the Woods." (Which "Woods"? THE Woods--meaning Tiger Woods?)
  • "We're having the Brooks over for dinner." (Just Garth, by himself? You're on a last-name-as-nickname basis with him?)

Some people, realizing that doesn't feel quite right, will try to fix it by throwing in an apostrophe:
  • "Pray for the Woods' "
  • "We're having the Brook's over for dinner."

But making a name plural should never, ever involve an apostrophe.  JUST SAY NO to unnecessary apostrophes.

It may look or sound strange. But you always add "s" or "es" to last names to make them plural--even if those names already end with "s". So we would write:
  • "Pray for the Woodses."
  • "We're having the Brookses over for dinner."

If this feels too awkward, there is an easy way out: Just add the word "family"!
  • "Pray for the Woods family."
  • "We're having the Brooks family over for dinner."

Problem solved.

On the other hand, what if you *are* referring to something the family owns? What if, for example, you want to invite people to the house that belongs to the Williams family?

It's not just one Williams who lives in the house. You have to make the name plural before adding the possessive. So it's not "the Williams' house," but rather "the Williamses' house" or simply "the Williamses'."

Again, remember: the safe solution is to change it to "the Williams family's house"  or "the home of the Williams family."

Keep in mind, the same rules apply for names that don't end in "s"--always add an S for plurals and  never add an apostrophe unless referring to a possessive:
  • Merry Christmas from the Johnsons!
  • Happy New Year from the Martinezes!
  • You're invited to a party at the Johnsons' house!
  • The Martinezes' house is beautiful.
And in case you were wondering, names that end in "y" don't change spelling as other y-ending words do:
  • Happy Holidays from the Kennedys!
  • The Kennedys' dog is cute.

There you have it. I hope this helps someone out there preparing Christmas cards or personalized Christmas gifts for family and friends!

More on the topic from anal-retentive like-minded grammarians: 
Grammar Lesson: Last Names That End in S
How to Make Family Names Plural

1 comment:

lydia said...

Ha! I must bookmark this! I feel like I send you an email every year on this very topic. Perhaps you can do a follow-up post on the (very confusing) names in my own family~;-) Or, wait, I probably have an archived email about that....