Home > Contemplations > Proper Apostrophe Use: Possessive Apostrophe In Brand/Corporate Names

Proper Apostrophe Use: Possessive Apostrophe In Brand/Corporate Names

I was writing a post for another blog the other day about McDonald’s Canada introducing free Wi-Fi at locations across Canada. As I composed the post, I realized that I needed to indicate possession for the brand McDonald’s. The sentence needed to indicate the customers who are possessed by McDonald’s and, try as I may, I couldn’t find a way to avoid this quandary.

Maybe some of you don’t see a problem so please allow me to explain why this is an issue. The actual corporate name of the restaurants is McDonald’s – as in the restaurant is owned by someone named McDonald. Therefore, the brand name in of itself is already expressing possession and uses an apostrophe accordingly. However, for my purposes, the name of the brand is McDonald’s making the whole thing a proper noun and not a proper noun with a possessive apostrophe and s at its end. Therefore, I was stumped wondering if I should be treating the brand name as if it were any other name that ends in s (like with Travis or Chris which become Travis’ or Chris’) and just add an apostrophe after the s, or if I should just leave the name as is and assume the the already present “apostrophe s” in the brand name was going to do double duty. The problem with treating McDonald’s as just another regular proper noun was that it would end up being McDonald’s’ which, to me, looked really awkward and just not right.

I consulted my Twitter stream and ended up going with the advice of @pshag aka Brad Machry who said that adding the possessive apostrophe was absolutely, 100% correct. I decided to trust Brad’s confidence in his answer and write the word that way in my article. However, I still would like to see it actually written somewhere; be it in the AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing or even from an English professor, or professional editor. I have since looked this up in Wikipedia (where else!) under the “Apostrophe” article, subheading “General Principles For The Possessive Apostrophe“. Under that subheading is another smaller category (which has no anchor, so no direct link)  “With other punctuation; compounds with pronouns” where it says:

If an original apostrophe, or apostrophe with s, occurs at the end, it is left by itself to do double duty: Our employees are better paid than McDonald’s employees; Standard & Poor’s indexes are widely used; the 5uu’s first album (the fixed forms of McDonald’s and Standard & Poor’s already include possessive apostrophes; 5uu’s already has a non-possessive apostrophe before its final s).

So whatever person wrote that into Wikipedia also must have been pretty confident about their exactly opposing opinion on the matter versus Brad’s. However, I still don’t know whom to believe as neither Wikipedia nor Brad have given me a source for where they learned this or on what set of rules or style guide they are basing their claims.

A Writer's Reference Sixth Edition cover via coverbrowser.com @ http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/bestsellers-2008/496-5.jpg - I hope they don't mind!I did try to look into this one myself before I asked anyone on Twitter or even decided to Google it. Before I did either of those things I pulled out my trusty, old “A Writer’s Reference, Sixth Edition” by Diana Hacker which, if you don’t know, is both the most widely adopted English handbook on the market AND the best-selling college (what Canadians refer to as university) textbook of any kind, in any discipline. After thoroughly checking the book and going to the A Writer’s Reference Sixth Edition” website I still came up empty handed. (I didn’t have a membership for the website any more so I couldn’t really use it but I DID go there.) I then checked if Diana Hacker had a Twitter account in the hope that I could ask her directly but, again, I came up empty handed.

This is why I ask you, my readers, to help me out on this one. What is the proper way to indicate possession when the proper noun itself already has a possession-indicating apostrophe? Please let me know in the comments below and, if possible, let me know the source for why you think it should go one way or the other.

  1. May 21, 2011 at 12:11 am

    I know you’re not finished but it was driving me crazy to not find out, so I consulted my CP Style book (older edition, but still good in this case).

    For “s'” usage, you only apply the apostrophe when there is a “zz” sound, not an “s” sound (e.g. Chris’s and Hans’). There was nothing for the McDonald’s’ issue but I just google searched and one example from Adage just refers to it as “McDonald’s” when using the possessive (http://bit.ly/j1Jtmm). It is McDonald’s Restaurant, so McDonald’s CEO makes sense.

    I hope that wasn’t too confusing!

    • May 21, 2011 at 12:46 am

      Not at all! Thank you so much for the link to Ad Age and for looking in the CP Stylebook for me.

      I think that the fact Ad Age does the same thing as is reccomended in the CP Stylebook indicates that the AP Stylebook rules the same way (because Ad Age is run out of the USA).

      I ended up going with McDonald’s’ in the post I wrote but maybe now I will change it.

      One thing though, I disagree with you on referencing the “…McDonald’s CEO…” quote and would prefer to use the first words of the article you linked “In McDonald’s eyes,…”. I say this simply because I have definitely seen CEOs referenced without any possessive apostrophe on their company name numerous times. What I mean is you will often see people talk about “Apple CEO Steve Jobs” without any possessive apostrophe s after the name Apple. In fact, CNN did it 4 days ago – http://edition.cnn.com/2011/TECH/mobile/05/16/video.chat.standard/

  2. July 9, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I have found this discussion really interesting, but cannot consider a double apostrophe – one is quite enough! I noted a fair number of other types of grammatical mistakes in this article, so the writer is clearly not as pedantic as I.

    • July 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Hi Alison,

      Thanks for your comment. I am the writer of the post and I sincerely would love it if you would point out my grammatical errors. I wrote that post during the 2011 Post-A-Day Challenge and published it at 11:58pm (right before the cut-off for that day) so I probably did not check it as thoroughly as I ought to have, and did not pay that much attention to proper grammar as I wrote it. However, you are absolutely correct in bringing up this point in an article all about proper grammar so I’d definitely appreciate any input you have to improve the grammatical content of this post. As soon as I hit the “Reply” button on this comment I will also be taking a look at the post to see what errors I can find which need editing.


  3. July 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks for the chance to explain! I did put in my weblink, but it hasn’t shown on this page: It’s GASP, Grammar And Spelling Pedants, on Facebook.
    See below the errors I found, with my suggested corrections in CAPS. I would also venture to suggest that you be more free with commas throughout, as some sentences are very long and not easy to follow. I have suggested this in a couple of places below.
    >The sentence needed to indicate the customers who are possessed by McDonald’s and, try as I /may\ MIGHT, I couldn’t find a way to avoid this quandary.
    >The actual corporate name of the restaurants is McDonald’s – /as in\ THAT IS, the restaurant is owned by someone named McDonald.
    >any other name that ends in s (/like\ AS with Travis or Chris which become Travis’ or Chris’ TRAVIS’S or CHRIS’S) [I dispute leaving out the possessive ‘s’ in such names, as they would sound v odd pronounced without the 2nd ‘s’]
    >or if I should just leave the name as IT is
    >However, I GAP still don’t know who /WHOM\ to fully believe [COMMA] as neither Wikipedia nor Brad /have\ HAS given me a source for [?FROM] where they learned this COMMA /or\ NOR INDICATED what set of rules or style guide they are basing their claims ON. [no need to worry about ending sentence with preposition if it makes it clearer, in my view!]
    >I could ask her directly but /I, again,\ AGAIN, I came up empty handed. [you are not emphasising yourself but your situation here]
    >when the proper noun already has a possession HYPHEN indicating apostrophe within it which has nothing to do with the possession you are trying to indicate? [example of a long sentence which wasn’t immediately clear to me – I’d be inclined to put in a comma, or rephrase]
    I hope this is clear. I still struggle with grammar, and am happy to be challenged myself!

    • July 11, 2012 at 6:28 pm


      To be perfectly honest I do not agree with all your suggestions and I’ll address them. As well, I have, since your original comment and before your second, added in a number of commas where I saw fit throughout.

      – “may” vs “might”: the words mean almost the exact same thing from what I have been able to find in dictionaries. Therefore I am going to leave that turn of phrase as I originally written.

      – “as in” the reason I chose to use that phrase as opposed to the one you suggested is because the company is no longer owned by anyone named McDonald. The original McDonald brothers were bought out by Ray Croc – the man who turned McDonald’s into the corporation it is today – more than half a century ago.

      – I was always taught not to add a second s after a possessive apostrophe and, although it isn’t added, it is still pronounced as if it were. English is a funny language like that.

      – “as is” is a legal term which, to quote Wikipedia, “denotes that the seller is selling, and the buyer is buying an item in whatever condition it presently exists, and that the buyer is accepting the item ‘with all faults’, whether or not immediately apparent.” As such, I think it fits here even though it isn’t the exact context the phrase is generally used it still expresses, in my opinion, what needs to be expressed. In fact, the phrase expresses what I want more succinctly than adding the extra word in so I see almost no reason to do so.

      – The GAP has been inserted, oops! As well, I corrected the ‘who’ into a ‘whom.’ Thanks!

      – Placement of the word “I” has been adjusted.

      – I switched up that last mentioned sentence to “What is the proper way to indicate possession when the proper noun itself already has a possession-indicating apostrophe?” I hope that cleared it up…it is definitely more succinct the new way.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and corrections. Although I didn’t agree with a lot of them I truly do appreciate it.

      • July 12, 2012 at 6:29 am

        Thanks for your gracious reply, Dan. We certainly won’t agree on everything, and I made it clear that I was offering suggestions rather than corrections. Re ‘may’ and ‘might’, I agree that they can be interchangeable in the present tense, but not in the past (try as I may [present], I couldn’t [past] find a way). ‘As in’ is an adjectival phrase, and I would not use it in this context unless the phrase after it were in inverted commas. The use of apostrophes after names ending in ‘s’ can be a problem, and it seems that US writers differ from UK writers here. I prefer to write as I would speak, and feel challenged to make my sentences as clear and concise as possible, but I rarely get them short enough …. I often regret publishing stuff I could have worked on for longer – but one has to stop somewhere, and I enjoyed reading your blog!

  4. Katerina Kokolis
    February 22, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    I could have sworn that I learned somewhere along the way that apostrophes are not supposed to be used in proper names! As in “McDonald’s”.

  5. Shekhar
    May 3, 2013 at 3:47 am

    Interesting, very interesting!!!!

  6. Renee
    October 19, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    This post was extremely helpful in my quest to write the perfect university assignment, I think. I have searched the internet for a definitive answer on this topic as I am doing an assignment on Domino’s campaign strategies (or Domino’s’ campaign strategies?). Still not sure what the right answer is so I’ve decided to settle things (and academics will shudder at the thought) by pure aesthetics in that Domino’s looks better than Domino’s’ in my opinion, so that’s what I’m going with 🙂

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