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Is it common for place names to lose the possessive?

I've always thought it should be 'King's Cross, London' as in a possessive sense. However the wiki page for King's Cross uses 'Kings Cross' in the title and 'King's Cross' throughout the article, and this newspaper article uses 'Kings Cross' throughout. And Google result for 'The King's Singers' returns a page title that reads:

The Official Kings Singers Website :About Us - The King's Singers

I've also seen other names like 'St Albans' or 'Harrods'. I thought these names are also possessive, as in 'Saint Alban's (city)' or '(Mr.) Harrod's (department store)', but the apostrophe seems routinely dropped. I thought maybe there is a rule that says 'drop the apostrophe if it's a proper name for some geographic location or shop name, etc', but 'Sainsbury's' seems to keep the apostrophe more often than not.

So I'm quite confused: am I expected to omit the apostrophe when spelling these names, or what? If yes, what's the rule to follow?

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marked as duplicate by Matt Эллен, RegDwigнt Apr 4 '12 at 10:20

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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In the U.S., in 1890, some bureaucrat went through the entire list of place names in the U.S. and standardized them to remove all the apostrophes and change all the burghs to burgs (Pittsburgh and Martha's Vineyard had enough political pull to successfully resist). As a result, there are places with abominable spellings, like Coxs Corner, NJ. –  Peter Shor Oct 8 '11 at 20:05

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

There really are no rules for the examples given. All the examples you offer are names of things -- and names generally don't have rules.

King's Cross, London is a proper noun, as is Kings Cross, Sydney. The presence or absence of the apostrophe is neither correct nor incorrect. Both are simply names.

Harrods was originally Harrod's, but the apostrophe was dropped from the name. This doesn't really matter as it's just a trade name (although some sticklers disagree).

Now if the words weren't part of a proper noun, then there would be rules.

  • A king's cross would be a cross belonging to a king.
  • A kings' cross would be a cross belonging to kings.
  • A kings cross would be a cross composed of kings.

But for names the key is consistency. King's Cross (London), the King's Singers, St Albans, and Harrods are correct because each uses the punctuation preferred by its entity's representatives.

Don't trust Wikipedia or Google to give you the correct answer. Go to the source.

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Thanks for the reply, and especially for the reminder on the cases where rules would apply. I think my confusion stems from 'what if the 'entity's representativeS' are not consistent'. As Jonathan Leffler has pointed out, King's Cross (the station)'s own website uses 'Kings Cross', and here the Network Rail page is 'King's Cross', and National Rail Enquiries uses 'Kings Cross' - so Kings Cross seems to win? –  Windfox Sep 6 '11 at 5:20
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@Windfox The National Rail Enquiries engine just doesn't handle apostrophes. "King's Cross" is correct, as you will see on all the signage if you visit the actual station. –  z7sg Ѫ Sep 6 '11 at 11:57
    
@D Krueger: You may be interested to note that the United States Board on Geographic Names does apparently seek to discourage apostrophes in placenames. Those charged with publicising such places would probably also like to lose their apostrophes, since they must feel somewhat disadvantaged in this world of internet search engines. –  FumbleFingers Sep 6 '11 at 12:48
    
@z7sg Ѫ I actually did (visit the actual station). That was where the confusion started to kick in because when booking by ticket I clearly remembered National Rail Enquiries uses 'Kings Cross'. Now I think it boils down to me being very meticulously educated on the use of the possessive apostrophe, and didn't really know it could be (and was) dropped.. –  Windfox Sep 6 '11 at 18:19

This gets tricky in these modern days. You might also care to consider:

  • Queens' College, Cambridge.
  • Queen's College, Oxford.

De facto, the apostrophe does often get dropped, but I'm not sure that there's an excuse for inconsistency. The college in Cambridge is King's College (see their web site). Since the singers originated there, it would be reasonable to expect that they'd be consistent with the use of the apostrophe, but if their main web site isn't self-consistent, it is hard to know what to make of it. Of course, it could just be careless proof-reading (and they might be grateful if it is pointed out).

Kings Cross Station's own web site drops the apostrophe; as you noted, Wikipedia does not.

St Albans (the town) has lost its apostrophe, though Google lists at least one church of St Alban's with the apostrophe.

I don't ever recall seeing an apostrophe in Harrods.

Generally, you should follow the lead of the place being described: if the nearest thing you can find to an official web site uses the apostrophe, so should you; if it does not, neither should you. In case of doubt, use the apostrophe (but be careful of Queen's and Queens' colleges, or analogous issues).

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Note that the apostrophe with possessive s is relatively new: I believe it was not yet in use in the time of Shakespeare (it was just a "summers day"). So some old names may have kept the old spellings, while others changed it as the apostrophe gained currency. –  Cerberus Sep 6 '11 at 4:03
    
Ah..I did speculate maybe the more historical (ancient?) things are the more that apostrophe tends to be omitted, but that's pure speculation.. –  Windfox Sep 6 '11 at 5:33
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That's not King's Cross Station's official website. –  z7sg Ѫ Sep 6 '11 at 11:53
    
The station as it appears on the map of the London undergound is 'King’s Cross'. 'Earl’s Court' is on the same line, but the next station is 'Barons Court'. There is also, on the District and Circle Line, 'St James's Park'. –  Barrie England Oct 7 '11 at 15:56
    
Queens' College, Cambridge is because it was founded by two queens, the one in oxford was dedicated to one. That maybe the most pointless fact that I know! –  mgb Oct 7 '11 at 19:24

This is more a question of popular usage or correct usage. And depending on your view, either can be correct. But I'm of the opinion that English is not a democracy. Right is right. If it's possessive it gets a single quote:

King's Cross is the correct answer.

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Ah, but is it your right or my right which is right? –  Colin Fine Sep 6 '11 at 17:18

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