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Apostrophe in place names

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Panceltic, May 2, 2013.

  1. Panceltic Senior Member


    I have some questions about the use of apostrophe in place names in English-speaking world. I have seen some place names always include the apostrophe (Bishop's Stortford), some vary (King's Cross/Kings Cross) and some never include it (St Albans). Is there a rule? Is it considered wrong to be consistent and always use apostrophes (e.g. write 'St Alban's')?

    Thanks for your help! :)
  2. e2efour

    e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 76)
    UK English
    There does not seem to be a useful rule. Any such rule would have a large number of exceptions.

    See the following article, from which I quote:

    “It can be difficult to predict whether a place name requires an apostrophe – and, if it does, where to put it. The mark’s placement in Queen’s College, Belfast does not correlate with that in Queens’ College, Cambridge, because the latter college was named after two queens. If you didn’t know this, you’re unlikely to guess.”
    Last edited: May 2, 2013
  3. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    In the U.S., the Federal government decided some decades ago that apostrophes in highway directional signs make names take longer to read, so it banned them. The Post Office, which at the time was a government agency, went along. Most places didn't bother arguing with both of these, so that became the almost-universal practice. One place that objected was Martha's Vineyard. Among other things its residents argued that, since it is an island, its name is unlikely to appear on a road sign. At this time I think it's the only exception - even though its name now appears on many road signs in and near Woods Hole (used to be Wood's Hole) and New Bedford, Mass., directing drivers to the ferry docks.
  4. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    From Wikipedia
    St Albans has been so named since c. 283 and, as above, at that time there would have been no genitive 's'. St Albans was an important ecclesiastical city as it has the tomb of St Alban in the church and the name would have been entered into records many times. I therefore suspect it remained without the apostrophe for consistency.

    Bishop's Stortford, however does not follow this rule
    However, I suspect this was not the case and that the apostrophe appeared sometime in the 16th century at the behest of a bishop who was keen on grammar. :)

    Kings Cross or King's Cross, is spelled both ways - again I suspect that it is a question of originally without and later with.

    Recently, the genitive 's' was in the British news media as a council had decided to remove all of them from street names on the grounds that it was confusing to the Royal Mail. There was a protest and they were all reinstated.

    In short, there is no rule, so you will have to learn everyone including those that can be spelled both ways.

    I hope this helps.
  5. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Here's a nice wiki-list of locations int the UK. (Note Places name for Saints are normally listed as (e.g.) "St Chloe" and sorted as if there was no space following the St). To illustrate e2e4's point again, the town of St Albans is in Hertfordshire, while named headland "St Alban's Head" is on the Dorset coat.
  6. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    The phonetician John Wells has also written on this and notes that if you travel on the London Underground, you might go to Earl's Court and Barons Court.

    There is a similar concern about apostrophes in signs (mentioned by Egmont) in the UK, as reflected in this article:
  7. Parla Member Emeritus

    New York City
    English - US
    In our country, it's the U.S. Board on Geographic Names that decides these things. Egmont is right (post #3) about apostrophes generally, but they're not totally banned; exceptions are rare, however. Five US place names are permitted to use an apostrophe: Martha's Vineyard in the state of Massachusetts, Ike's Point in New Jersey, John E's Pond in Rhode Island, Carlos Elmer's Joshua View in Arizona, and Clark's Mountain in Oregon (the last of the five to be approved, in 2002). As far as I know, no exceptions have been added in the last decade.
  8. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Very interesting, and thank you!
  9. sidhesan New Member

    Spanish, Catalan
    Hi there!

    I'm Spanish and I've been living in UK for nearly 2 years, and lately I've been wondering about the Saxon genitive of certain street names, especially saints' names. For instance, I currently live in St. Georges Way, as the sign literally reads. I've seen many other signs where the apostrophe seems to be intentionally missing. I didn't stop to think about this until my former English teacher in Spain (who is British) sent me a card and wrote St. George's Way.

    Is there any rule regarding saints' names in streets or do they simply ignore the apostrophe when making the signs?

    Thank you very much :) And sorry for my grammar and/or vocabulary mistakes.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2013
  10. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Place names commonly have the apostrophe, and other place names commonly leave it out. There's no real rule. If in doubt, use it. Sometimes both are in common use for the one name: I've never been able to work out whether to write King's Cross or Kings Cross.
  11. sidhesan New Member

    Spanish, Catalan
    Thanks, entangledbank!
  12. In the UK, individual councils or local authority officials make this decision.

    Very often, it comes down to voluble citizens or pressure groups making a fuss about missing or misplaced apostrophes to get them put right.

    In many localities, the populace unfortunately doesn't care.

  13. sidhesan New Member

    Spanish, Catalan
    Thanks a lot, Rover.
  14. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Mod note: Sidhesan's thread (from post 9) has been merged with another thread from 3 months ago. Please scroll up.
  15. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Apparently, neither can the UK railway authorities:

    NetworkRail, which operates the UK railway infrastructure, uses an apostrophe. See this page.

    National Rail Enquiries, the official source of information about trains, doesn't. See this page.
  16. skymouse Member

    central London
    English - London
    The main force behind the variation is fashion.

    I myself have lived for years in one of the places you named — King's Cross, in central London, if that's the one you mean (I believe there is one in Australia, too). Indeed, my very street is King's Cross Road. I've seen both spellings, and although some individual writers or organisations are inconsistent or indecisive,it seems to be treated as a matter of style more often than of whim. Most local people don't seem to regard either form as absolutely wrong, even if they have their own preference.

    As an aside, in England many names of areas — including King's Cross itself — are colloquial names used by local people, but don't have a precise legal scope. So you'll always hear people in my area call this neighbourhood "King's Cross" but exactly where it begins and ends is not agreed on by map-makers. Many maps have the name "St Pancras" as the nearest label to my street, but I've never heard a single person use that name for our area.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2013

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