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Family name pluralization

If a proper noun is a homograph of a common noun, is the proper noun subject to the same usage and form rules as the common noun, especially if the rules are not standard?

I’m specifically interested in pluralization. For instance, if there are several people whose first names are Company, would I refer to them collectively as Companies or Companys?

Or, if I have several unique things named Equipment, would they be collectively referred to as Equipment or Equipments?

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A more widely-applicable name example might be Lily and Lilies/Lilys. –  Andrew Leach Sep 13 '12 at 15:15
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Related question: Family name pluralization –  JLG Sep 13 '12 at 15:21
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Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/68374/… –  Alex B. Sep 13 '12 at 15:57
    
Some answers to Is it grammatical to say “the batmen”? also apply –  jwpat7 Sep 13 '12 at 21:26
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marked as duplicate by bib, MετάEd, kiamlaluno, StoneyB, Mitch Sep 16 '12 at 23:47

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3 Answers

While this might be a matter of style, I would think that a person's name and its spelling would be considered sacrosanct. Therefore, regardless of our beliefs about rules or guidelines, we should never corrupt someone's name to adhere to those strictures.

Therefore, it would be Companys or Lilys and not Companies or Lilies.

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I shouldn't imagine that Atlas is bothered by the fact that statues commemorating him are labelled atlantes whereas map-books named after him are uncorrupted atlases. (freedictionary): Atlas / Atlantes (statues of the hero); but atlas / atlases (map collections). Joking apart, I suppose that changing the stem of a word to pluralise it is more of a 'corruption' than adding an 's', but it's arguable, and one could argue along similar lines that we should have labelled the two Berlins (East and West) the two Berlinen. Adding an s is selfishly - corruptly? - Anglophile. –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 14 '12 at 15:17
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EDIT: In the Google N-Grams below, the blue version always represents applying the regular inflection rules of English to change a proper noun ending in ‑y to its ‑ies form, while the red version always represents the irregular version where you just add a bare s and leave the y intact, producing a ‑ys word.


First, let’s name a Companies/Companys example. It turns out that one always writes Ford Motor Companies, never Ford Motor Companys, as this Google N-Gram proves:

Google N-Gram of Ford Motor Company

A recent entrant in the field is the popular children’s toy called a My Little Pony, which also spawned animated features on television. It turns out that when people collect these things, it is always their My Little Ponies they collect, not the irregular form:

Google N-Gram of My Little Ponies

Next, we’ll go to country names. You will have heard of Sicily. It turns out that there was once a Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. As you see in the Google N-gram below, no one ever wrote of “the two *Sicilys”: that just doesn’t make sense. You merely inflect the word regularly:

Ngram plot of the two Sicilies

With the noun Romany, there was some confusion near the start of the last century, but the regular form is clearly preferred:

Ngram plot of the two Romanies

When it comes to the two Germanies, although you will find some variation, the regularly inflected form is historically dominant, and earlier writers would never have thought of doing anything else:

Ngram plot of the two Germanies

What if New York City were split into two or more parts? Would you you several New York Cities, or several New York Citys? The overwhelmingly dominant answer is the regularly inflected version:

enter image description here

With people’s own names, we find much the same thing, and in fact if anything, the effect is even stronger. Take for example, the girl’s name Jenny:

Ngram plot of the two Jennies

Or the boy’s name Jerry:

Ngram plot of the two Jerries

Or the boy’s name Tommy:

Ngram plot of the two Tommies

Or the girl’s name Molly:

Ngram plot of the two Mollies

In all these cases, there is simply no instance of the irregular form; you simply change final ‑y to ‑ies for the plural. With some names you can in recent years occasionally find a few instances of an irregular form, but it is not common.

This issue comes up in translating ancient texts. Homer had two characters named Ajax. What do you call the two of them? Pope preferred Ajaces, following the Latin model, and many translators chose to stay closer to the original Greek with Aiantes or more recently, Aeantes. (The Greek had Αἴας in the singular and Αἴαντε in the plural.) Only a few have elected Ajaxes, which is a form that Bernard Knox, in his introduction to the Fagles translation of the Iliad, describes as a “grotesque” term.

But no one at all has ever elected *Ajaxs, which is what people who would argue for “The Kingdom of the Two *Sicilys” would have you do. That just isn’t how we do things in English. You use the normal rules for inflections, whether these are English rules (or sometimes, in very rare instances, classical ones). If you have two fellows both named Alex, then they are the Alexes, not the *Alexs. (And no, not the Alices either: that one is already taken. :)

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So a couple of thoughts, tchrist. I was actually interested in what English language enthusiasts agree on the formal rule that guides this, not necessarily what the most common usage is on the Internet. I am not familiar with a Google N-Gram but does it indicate the latter? –  Mark Bostleman Sep 14 '12 at 15:52
    
Also, if a proper noun Company is pluralized as Companies, then isn't there an implied connection between Company and company? If so, how can that be justified? In other words, how or why must a person or a plant or piece of furniture that is, for whatever reason, called Company be constrained to a relationship to a company, at least to the extent that it must take on the same forms? –  Mark Bostleman Sep 14 '12 at 15:54
    
You are mistaken when you say that the Ngram represents the pluralization of the boy's name Jerry. Jerry was the nickname for a German soldier in WW2. Thus the plural spelling respects the rule for nouns ending in y. If you look at the results for two Jerrys, you'll find that it refers to two people whose names are Jerry. "In this episode, the two Jerrys— Krause and Reinsdorf, vice president and chairman of the team" and "The two Jerrys don't even look alike. Mitchell is redheaded with a beard; Levine, dark-haired and cleanshaven." –  Mari-Lou A Jan 3 at 19:32
    
Likewise, Tommy was the nickname for a British soldier, and there was also a gun commonly called a "Tommy gun" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thompson_submachine_gun Basically this is why I tend to mistrust Ngrams. They don't give the full picture. –  Mari-Lou A Jan 3 at 19:39
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Regarding the "equipment" part of your question: The ordinary English word "equipment" is a collective noun. You wouldn't normally say, "I have two equipments". Maybe "I have two pieces of equipment" or "I have a lot of equipment." But if someone made, say, a new brand of cell phone that they called a "Talk Equipment", and you had two of them, I think you would say that you had "two Talk Equipments".

I am reminded of a lecture I heard on grammar once where the speaker said the questioned whether the plural of Walkman would be "two Walkmans" or "two Walkmen". He said he wrote to Sony and he got a letter back stating that the correct form was "one Sony Walkman, two Sony Portable Personal Audio Players".

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Probaby Sony didn't want to damage their trademark claims by subjecting "Walkman" to such profane things as declension. –  Alexander Kosubek Sep 14 '12 at 7:54
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