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When pluralizing family (last) names that also happen to be common English words, does the pluralization follow the same rules as the common word?

For example, "the Smith family" can be pluralized as "the Smiths", but what if your family name is Wolf or Fish? Would it be "the Wolfs" or "the Wolves"?

I've always been curious and this seems like a good place to ask.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 19 down vote accepted

You generally ignore that the underlying word has an irregular plural, so it would be "the Wolfs". (This is the same rule as for irregular words in compounds where they aren't the main noun: "mongooses" is the plural of "mongoose" even though "goose" has an irregular plural.)

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Agreed. I think more specifically that it reflects that "wolf" (the animal) and "Wolf" (the last name) are regarded as separate, though homophonous, lexical items. Thus, just like we have the homophonous words "lie" (past tense "lied") and "lie" (past tense "lay"), we have "wolves" and "Wolfs". This is also even true of names like "Mickey Mouse". If someone had a bunch of Mickey stuffed animals on their bed, most people would say "there were three Mickey Mouses on the bed" and not "Mickey Mice". –  Kosmonaut Dec 25 '10 at 20:38
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The reason it’s supposed to be mongooses not mongeese (kinda: there are now re-analysed mongeese to be found)is not because it is a compound word; it most certainly is not one! It comes from Portuguese mongús, and never had goose nor gander involved with it. @Kosmonaut I can see your point about Mickey Mouse not being Mickey Mice, but most compound words with irregular plurals keep the irregular: titmouse>titmice, muskox>muskoxen, Bigfoot>Bigfeet, bird-louse > bird-lice, grandchild > grandchildren. But I can’t see Mr & Mrs Grandchild referred to as the Grandchildren. :) –  tchrist May 20 '12 at 22:42
    
@tchrist: "most compound words with irregular plurals keep the irregular". That wasn't my point; it's not about being a compound word, it's about the semantic connection between the two words. Proper names have a different kind of status and don't take on any kind of irregular plural. (I also disagree with your claim that "Bigfeet" is the established plural for Bigfoot.) "Mongoose" doesn't take the irregular plural because it only looks like it has "goose" in it, but comes from Portuguese "mangus". Muskoxen, bird-lice, and grandchildren are kinds of oxen, lice, and children. –  Kosmonaut Jun 7 '12 at 15:06
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@tchrist: "titmice" is an exceptional case. The OED says "In the 16th cent., when mose had long been obsolete as an independent word, and in titmose had become stressless (compare the form tytmus), it was interpreted as mouse, with plural titmice. The smallness and quick mouse-like movements of the common species probably aided the corruption." So, here the OED links the irregularization to a semantic link between "titmouse" and "mouse". This semantic link is the key. –  Kosmonaut Jun 7 '12 at 15:07
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except that the plural of mongoose could also be polygoose. –  Xantix Sep 13 '12 at 17:11

It's up to the family concerned, and it doesn't have to be the same even betwen branches of the same family. In LOTR, Bilbo refers to a family as "the Proudfoots" and is interrupted by a Proudfoot saying "Proud*feet*!" It's not meant seriously, but it does indicate that people call themselves what they want to.

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I know of a family who also does it this way. Thus, generally "Wolfs" would be correct (e.g., in official documents), but when they send invitations for a hunting expedition, they can use "Wolves", too. (+1 for your example.) –  Stephen Jan 12 '12 at 20:16

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