I recently came across a surname in a podcast, called Barleyfoot. In the podcast, his family was referred to as the Barleyfeet. Is this correct? Or should it be Barleyfoots? What about other possible names ending in words like goose, man, cactus etc. whose original words' plurals don't just add an 's' at the end? I'd like to say that a surname is a Proper noun, but if multiple people in a family have it, is it a Proper noun/ Collective noun?

Edit: The question mentioned as similar, does not cite any references for the answers given. Got answer with reference here


From The Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.), 7.5:

Most nouns form their plural by adding s or—if they end in ch, j, s, sh, x, or z—by adding es.

And from Chicago, 7.9:

Names of persons and other capitalized nouns normally form the plural by adding s or es. Exceptions, including the last example, are generally listed in Webster’s . . .

      Tom, Dick, and Harry; pl. Toms, Dicks, and Harrys
      the Jones family, pl. the Joneses
      the Martinez family, pl. the Martinezes
      the Bruno family, pl. the Brunos
      Sunday, pl. Sundays
      Germany, pl. Germanys
      Pakistani, pl. Pakistanis


      Romany, pl. Romanies

Strictly according to this guideline, and assuming that there is no entry for Barleyfoot in Webster's, the plural should be Barleyfoots.

However, the family itself is free to refer to itself in whatever manner it wishes. If a family member says, "My name is Tom Barleyfoot, but if you want to refer to my family as a whole, please call us the Dinklemeisters," then so be it.

Even if it makes no sense at all, it's the family that sets their own guidelines for their own names. The point of a proper name, if you're the person who "owns" it, is that you can do whatever you want with it. (Although the more unusual the thing you do with it, the less likely that anybody else will know to use it as you wish them to.)

So, perhaps the person speaking on the podcast actually knows that this family prefers to have people refer to them as the Barleyfeet rather than the Barleyfoots.

Or, perhaps they just made it up because it sounded right to them.

Update: A comment asked about the plural of proper names that take the form of irregular plural nouns. For instance: Fish or Wolf.

As proper names, common sense would seem to dictate that they not be treated in the same way as common nouns. However, that's a subjective take on my part. This specific circumstance isn't covered anywhere specifically. So, I guess it falls to individual preference, with the specific people in question having more of a say in it than anyone.

Note, however, that if you add "family" you leave the family name singular. This is shown in section 7.2, as quoted above, where these are equivalent: the Jones family and the Joneses; the Martinez family and the Martinezes; and the Bruno family and the Brunos.

In the same way, even if you're not sure how you should pluralize Fish or Wolf, you can still reword around it: The Fish family and The Wolf family.

  • The reference cited in your answer does not specifically mention surnames/last names that are irregular nouns in English. For instance, should it be "The Wolfs family" or "The Wolves family"; The Fish family" or "The Fishes family"; "The Childs family" or "The Children family"? – Mari-Lou A Jul 31 '18 at 9:28
  • @Mari-LouA With this ambiguity, assuming the family in question can't be asked, use the singular form and add family to the end. (You don't use the plural form with family.) I have updated my answer. – Jason Bassford Jul 31 '18 at 13:42
  • @Mari-LouA sigh (no coffee yet . . .) Fixed. :) – Jason Bassford Jul 31 '18 at 13:54

CONCRETE NOUNS are divided into four types:





Surnames are proper nouns.

Barelyfoot is the surname and not Barelyfeet. In order to address more than one person of Barelyfoot family you have to add 's' for making it plural. You can't simply change someone's surname from Barelyfoot to Barelyfeet, that is also illegal. So, correct way to refer more than one Barelyfoot is Barelyfoots (or Barelyfoot family).

  • 1
    Surnames are not common nouns; they are proper nouns. And legality only applies when you are talking about government paperwork, not when you are referring to common usage. – Jason Bassford Jul 31 '18 at 7:41

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