From Word Genius
As you gather your car keys and reusable bags, you shout that you’re going to the store. Which store? Wegmans. Or maybe Trader Joe’s. And then on the way back, you may just swing by the McDonald’s drive-thru. Each of these stores has a different approach to pluralizing their names and sometimes adding a possessive apostrophe. Is it a grammatical gaffe when a store doesn’t add one, or just a branding strategy? Let’s dive into some store name history to investigate.
What’s In a Name?
In 1948, two brothers opened a burger joint in California. While they previously had a successful carhop restaurant, this new place would have only a few items on the menu, including burgers and fries. The name? McDonald’s, after the brothers’ last name. The possessive apostrophe informed hungry drivers cruising down the California highway that they could stop into a place owned by the McDonald brothers.
Another example comes from the TV world of Mad Men. In the first season, Don Draper meets Rachel Menken, who works at the eponymous department store Menken’s. This apostrophe indicates ownership; as Don later learns, the store belongs to her father.
According to one branding expert, using the last name of the owner was a strategy to let buyers know the product was of high quality — why else would the ower take the risk of being associated with it? Using the possessive can also signal to a shopper that the company is a family enterprise, which may make the customer feel like their wallets align with their values.
Plurals and Possessives
Sometimes, a store name will end with an “s” without an apostrophe, even if the owner’s name doesn’t end in “s,” as is the case with Wegmans. Danny Wegman is the current chairman of the corporation, and his daughter Colleen Wegman is the president and CEO of Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. When the family-owned grocery store incorporated in 1931, they decided to leave off the apostrophe. The company describes it as simplifying the logo; if they added the apostrophe back today, the company’s website notes, it would cost a half a million dollars to change all their signs.
The only instance where it may make sense to use an apostrophe is if you’re using it as a possessive. Merriam-Webster notes that words (or names) that already end with an “s” sound can do with just an apostrophe.
There’s not a hard and fast rule when it comes to making a possessive proper noun plural, but just keep it consistent if there are multiple instances.
Some stores forgo the “s” altogether — Nordstrom, for example. While the name does refer to a person (founder John Nordstrom), the company’s original full name was Wallin & Nordstrom. So why do shoppers sometimes add the possessive “s”? It’s likely because we have seen so many instances where a store does use the possessive apostrophe. Our brains play it safe and add it, even if the company’s branding doesn’t.
Some researchers (and Redditors) think this linguistic quirk could be a geographic phenomenon when referring to different stores. It may also be our familiarity with different names given our individual backgrounds and histories; if a brand sounds like a name, such as “Kroger,” we may tack on a plural or possessive “s.”
Where does that leave confused shoppers? If you catch yourself adding an “s” to a store name, take solace in knowing that your brain may be filling in the grammatical blank. As for stores that have a plural “s” but no apostrophe? They may be trying to save on building costs.