British English - no apostrophes in possessive business names?

Recently, there has been several SDMB threads regarding improper use of the apostrophe.

In the UK, many business and product names that are possessive do not incorporate an apostrophe.

Is the exclusion of an apostrophe for singular possessive business and product names considered correct usage in British English? If so, why?

It’s anathema to me.

There’s another example of this phenomenon with regard to street naming: in my village there was a Druids Walk - did this mean the sort of place in which multiple druids may be found walking, or is it the walk belonging to a single druid? There was a Kings Close, too - belonging to the king, or a place of many kings?

Woolworths follows this style too. I think, prescriptively, it is incorrect.

Most of those companies were incorporated a while back, though. I am interested in whether or not those businesses had apostrophies when they were first started. Anyone know of any retro-UK business sites?

A lot of it is down to logo designers. Apostrophes make logos look “cluttered”, apparently.

At home I have a reproduction of a Harrods catalogue from the 1920s, and I believe the apostrophe had already vanished at that point, but I don’t have it to hand to check it out.

Re jjimm’s point about street names, near where I used to live in London there is King’s Road (with apostrophe) which joined onto Kings Avenue (no apostrophe). And as for the famous King’s Road in Chelsea, it has an apostophe in the SW10 and SW3 postal districts, and no apostophe in the SW6 district.

Logic? We don’ need no steenkin’ logic…

Well according to this link (pdf file) Boots hasn’t had an apostrophe in its logo since it first opened in 1849.


I note that the PDF document says “Boots the chemists”. Perhaps “Boots” refers to a multiple of the family members…?

Similarly I am not sure that Halfords and Littlewoods are possessives. Halfords was started by F W Rushbrooke in 1892 and Littlewoods by Sir John Moores in 1923.

On a tangent, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names is adamantly opposed to the use of apostrophes in what are logically possessives in the names of geographic features inside the United States. So you have Halls Creek, New Hampshire (not Hall’s), Saint Marys River, Maryland (not Mary’s) and Yorks Islands, Montana (not York’s). Martha’s Vinyard is one of the very few exceptions they permit.

On the London Underground, Earl’s Court and Barons Court are right next to each other.

The Geographical Names Board of New South Wales also has this policy. It’s Definitely Tom Uglys Point, and Unwins Bridge Road. No apostrophes. On Nineteenth Century maps of Sydney, however, the apostrophes tend to be included.

New Zealand Geographic Board, too, removes the apostrophe in place names. But it is a bit difficult when writing about history spanning back to the nineteenth century – and in my local area, the apostrophe still crops up in St Jude’s Street, St George’s, etc.

Which suggests a follow-up question: Why do so many geographic boards have this bizarre and annoying policy?

Some though not all of these usages may have reference to the plural possessive (which would still take an apostrophe in precise grammar, but after the -s). If I said, “I’m going over to the Smiths’,” my meaning would be that I am going to the house belonging to the Smith family, i.e., the people who are called the Smiths. My home town had a locally-owned department store named Empsalls – with the implication that it was owned by the Empsall family, and technically should have had an apostrophe after the final letter, but in common usage did not. (After the store closed, they reopened it as a sort of enclosed mall for small specialty shops called Empsalls Plaza, again with no apostrophe.)

I vaguely remember reading that on official maps, the apostrophe was used as a symbol for some physical feature of the geography, so whatever U.S. agency was responsible at the time didn’t want apostrophes appearing on maps for any other reason.

Oh, and I just remembered something – I have noticed that Britons tend to add an “s” to the name of any business, whether or not it is actually part of the name. I have a friend who works for the London office of the Chicago-based law firm Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. Here in the U.S., we just abbreviate the name as “Sidley”; however, my English friend always refers to it as “Sidleys.”

Shortly after being formed in 1890, the US Board on Geographic Names made up a list of 13 principles to guide them in their naming. One of these was to eliminate apostrophes along with other diacritic characters. I don’t know if they had any reason related cartography for doing this or if they just wanted to standardize all the names.

At any rate, the rules were not applied uniformly. As noted above, Martha’s Vinyard still has its apostrophe, as does Coeur d’Alene (although the latter lost a circumflex on the second E). D’Lo, Mississippi was for a number of years named Dlo, but then reverted.

Back to the OP, the companies are Boots not Boot, Halfords not Halford, Walkers not Walker, and Littlewoods not Littlewood, so internal apostrophes would be erroneous.

Unless I’m missing something, qts, this q doesn’t follow this p. The OP didn’t ask why it’s “Halfords” instead of “Halford”; it asked why it’s “Halfords” instead of “Halford’s.”

If a chap called John D. Halford founded the company, then to me, logically, the company should be called “Halford’s.” If what they’re selling is some commodity called a “halford,” then they might call them “Halford’s Halfords Ltd.” (or whatever). But just “Halfords” seems odd, unless the founder’s name was John D. Halfords.

For example, here in the U.S., the grocery chains founded by Mr. Kroger and Mr. Meijer are called “Kroger” and “Meijer,” with no “s,” with or without apostrophe. Informally, they’re called “Kroger’s” and “Meijer’s.” The chains founded by Mr. Fry, Mr. Baker, and Mr. Smith are called “Fry’s,” “Baker’s,” and “Smith’s.”

After all, that “s” is a possessive “s,” isn’t it? Or is it?

As I mentioned above, a John D Halford didn’t start the company, an F W Rushbrooke did. Quite where the name Halfords came from is a mystery. Their website offers no clues:

Here in Canada “Tim Hortons” refuses to use the possessive apostrophe as well. I remember reading it was a decision by the graphic design people simply because the logo “looked better” without it.