Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Apostrophe Placement in Proper Names

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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