What are Apostrophe Rules with Names?

Proper English punctuation can make a big difference in the meaning of words, phrases and sentences, sometimes with hilarious results. Misplaced apostrophes can indicate that one person owns something that really belongs to more than one, or they can turn a plural noun into a possessive. The rules for using apostrophes with names are basically the same as those for all other nouns. Many rules are offered as a style guide for learning the English language for formal writing, including in the Chicago manual of style.

For most names, you add an apostrophe and an “s” to make the possessive form. These rules are normally used for proper nouns and proper names for possession, but they can also be used for singular nouns turning into plural nouns, plural possessives, possessive nouns, possessive pronouns, and singular possessives. Apostrophes are normally not used for abbreviations, as they are used for different words in the English language, or for family names that need a plural form or need a possessive apostrophe. They do not make up for missing letters in a word nor do they make a noun plural.

Use Apostrophes for Possession Only

Apostrophes should only be used to show possession, the ownership or belonging of something. They are not properly used to make nouns plural, which means showing more than one. For example, “roses” are more than one rose, while “rose’s” means of or belonging to a single rose, like “the rose’s thorns.” With names, you would write “Sammy’s toys” to refer to the playthings of one boy. You would not use an apostrophe to explain that there were four Sams at the party. Another example is “Johnson’s.”

Apostrophes for Names Ending in “S”

This situation can get a little tricky, because there is actually no hard-and-fast rule about apostrophe use for nouns ending with “s.” Some people hold that only the apostrophe should be added, without the extra “s,” like in “Charles’ book.” Others say to add the “s,” so that it reads “Charles’s book.” Still others differentiate by the sound of the final letter, adding only the apostrophe if the letter makes a “z” sound -- James’ or Lourdes’ -- and using both the apostrophe and the “s” if the letter makes the “s” sound -- Lucas’s or Agnes’s. A good rule of thumb is to pick one system or the other and to use it consistently throughout, and check with your teacher or supervisor to see which form is the preferred one.

Apostrophes With Plural Names

Just like other plural nouns, names that have been pluralized need only the apostrophe -- no added “s” -- to make them possessive, and you pluralize the names even if they already end in “s.” For example, you would write about “the Joneses’ house” when speaking of the family’s house, instead of “Jones’ house” or “Jones’s house,” which refers to just one person named Jones or Mr. Jones. Sometimes, this can make the pronunciation a little awkward, but it is important to be clear about whether you’re talking about one or more than one person. Another example is “the Smiths’ house” moving to “the Smithses.”

Apostrophes With Two Names

If you are using the names of two different people in a possessive form, you add the apostrophe and the “s” only to the second name -- “Mary and Sally’s red blouses.” If you use one person’s name and a pronoun for the other person, add the apostrophe and “s” only to the name -- “Jimmy’s and her favorite movies.

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