Client Name / client's name


English - US
My Colombian coworker has a question regarding English usage that I can't answer to her (or my satisfaction).

Compare the two phrases:

"the client name"


"the client's name"

Both seem to mean the same thing. But compare:

"Scott's cup"

"Scott cup"

The latter would never be used. So what is the reason for the difference in usage? My best guess it that making a (non-possessive) adjective out of the noun implies a more impersonal relationship between the speaker and the possessor. Does anyone have any other feelings towards this phenomenon? That is, when should one form be used? And why do certains nouns become non-possessive adjectives in some situations, and possessive adjectives in others?

  • For one, ownership or use of a cup is transitory—and one can hold or own more than one—but a client has only one name.

    Practicality can be an issue. The phrase "Scott's cup" is unlikely to appear multiple times in a text or to be used in complex sentences, so why shorten it? The phrase "client's name" might appear multiple times in a text and in complex sentences, making it more likely that one would want to simplify it to "client name."

    Custom plays a part as well, of course.

    Context is important. Can you think of sample sentence that might use the two phrases in a parallel or similar manner?
    Hmm. For example, "Some people use the government's money. But other people believe government money to be a bad investment." There seems to be a shade of difference in these terms, but I can't quite put it in words.
    With a plain noun (as in 'client name') you create a new expression that doesn't refer to any particular client. You might say that you need a client name on this form, so there is no valid client name there, or compare the lengths of the names and see that the longest client name is ten letters. The expression 'client name' acts basically like a noun, so you can put adjectives in front of it. (I mean in front of 'client', but not in front of 'name'.)

    But with 'the client's name', the structure is different: it's [the client's name] as opposed to [the client name]. An adjective before the first noun would refer to the client, not the name: [the richest client's name]. Or if the adjective modified 'name', it would refer to that client only: [the client's longest name] only makes sense if that client has several names.
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    It is tricky. Here are some invented examples. I believe they are consistent with entangledbank's fine explanation.

    Client name (with client, a noun, being used attributively, effectively acting as an adjective modifying the noun name.)

    We require all the appropriate details, including client name, client place of business, and client state of incorporation.
    We require all the appropriate details, including full client name, client place of business, and client state of incorporation.

    Client's name: There is nothing unusual here.
    What is the client's name?
    What is the first client's name? [Adjective refers to one of a number of clients.]
    What is the client's first name? [Adjective refers to one of a number of names belonging to one client.]

    In the first example, for client name, you could substitute client's name, and the only difference I can detect would be one of style, with the former sounding more dry, objective, bureaucratic.