Adams, Adamses, Adams’s

Penny at podium_croppedCan we agree on something? Can we agree not to form plurals with apostrophes?

Now this may not seem like a genealogical topic, but making plurals does come up in genealogy, because it comes up in all writing. And sometimes in family histories we need to make plurals of proper names. Here are the basic rules:

  1. To make a plural of most nouns, add an s: apples, pears, plums.
  2. If the noun ends with an s, ch, x, or z sound, add es: buses, beaches, faxes.
  3. If a noun ends with y, change the y to i and add es: babies, pennies. (Exception: if the noun ends with ey, just add s: monkeys.)

Of course, because our language is English, there are some irregular plurals, such as men, women, and children.

What about proper names? Simply apply rules 1 and 2, adding either s or es:

The Strattons will be here for the reunion.
The Adamses lived in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Do not invoke rule 3, however, as you do not want to change the spelling of a proper name. Thus the plural of Kennedy is Kennedys, not Kennedies.

Please note that you have seen no apostrophes in these plurals.

But let’s turn now to possessives. If you’re showing that someone owns something, that’s where your apostrophe will come into play. Follow several simple rules:

If a noun is singular, even if it ends in s, add an apostrophe plus s:

Charles Dickens’s works are among my favorites.
Kansas’s legislature is voting today.
NEHGS’s headquarters is in Boston.

If you are making a possessive of a plural noun that ends in s, add just an apostrophe.

 All the male descendants’ names are Nathaniel.
That was the Washingtons’ home.

If you have a plural of a proper name that ends in ch, s, x, or z and need to make it possessive also, don’t overthink it! Make the plural first, and then add the apostrophe, even though it might look funny:

The Finches’ farm
The Adamses’ house
The Rodriguezes’ ancestry

If your surname is Brooks, please do not sign your greeting cards “Love, the Brooks’.” You are the Brookses and should call yourself that or “the Brooks family,” and you do not need an apostrophe unless you are telling me that you own something. If you are sending me an invitation to a party at your house, ask me to come to “The Brookses’ house,” not the Brook’s or Brooks’s or Brooks’ house.

At times you will want to reword what you’re saying to avoid something really awkward, such as “There are five Moseses in my father’s line.” Better to say, “There are five males named Moses in my father’s line.” Or instead of “All of the Papadopolouses are here,” say “All of the Papadopolous family are here.” Hmmm. Or would you say all of the family is here? What do you think?

Penny Stratton

About Penny Stratton

A veteran of the book publishing industry, Penny Stratton retired as NEHGS Publishing Director in June 2016; she continues to consult with the Society on publications projects. Among the more than 65 titles she managed at NEHGS are The Great Migration Directory, Elements of Genealogical Analysis, Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, and the award-winning Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts. She has written for American Ancestors magazine and is a regular poster on Vita Brevis. With Henry B. Hoff, Penny is coauthor of Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History; she is also the author of several Portable Genealogists on writing and publishing topics.View all posts by Penny Stratton