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Frequently when I refer to or address a family, I do so by pluralizing their last name, e.g., The Smiths, or The Ramones. But suppose I want to address a family whose last name ends in a "y", e.g., Kennedy. Normally in English, I reflexively change the "y" to an "ies" when pluralizing words in this form, but as a proper noun, I'm not sure this is the right thing to do. On the other hand, The Kennedys doesn't seem right either--the "dys" looks like it would lead to a dysfunctional prononciation. I'm also pretty sure an apostrophe belongs nowhere near here.

So how do I properly pluralize a name ending in a "y"?

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  • 2
    Consider The Dead Kennedies.
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 19:29
  • 6
    And consider The Kennedys.
    – JLG
    May 20, 2012 at 20:18
  • 1
    If my last name were Bellman, the plural wouldn't be Bellmen. Just add an 's'.
    – Cameron
    May 20, 2012 at 21:03
  • 1
    Related: Family name pluralization.
    – RegDwigнt
    May 20, 2012 at 21:48
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    @tchrist: For the benefit of readers, i'll repeat what i pointed out below: the band themselves spell it Dead Kennedys. May 20, 2012 at 22:56

6 Answers 6

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It seems that the current consensus is “don’t change” (-ys).

Swan 2005 cautiously says that "proper nouns usually [emphasis mine - Alex B.] have ys".

the Kennedys (not the Kennedies)

There’s a punk band, Dead Kennedys http://www.deadkennedys.com/; there’s also aTV show, The Kennedys.

the Willoughbys

the Wolfs (not the Wolves)

the Henrys

the two Germanys

Februarys

Marys (not Maries)

Huddleston and Pullum 2002 give the following rule for proper nouns: “the base always remains unchanged in both speech and writing” (p. 1595).

I was able to find one reference only (Chalker 1992 in The Oxford companion to the English language) that argues for the form two Maries.

The majority of grammars argue for “Marys”:

the three Marys (The Oxford guide to English usage, p. 40)

the little Marys (A comprehensive grammar of the English language, 1985)

three Hail Marys (The Cambridge guide to English usage, 2004).

Google “both Marys”, “both Maries”, “two Marys”, and “two Maries”. By all means, the unchanged form (Marys) is much more common.

A note on the Rocky Mountains (Rockies). Its derivation is not a Rocky =>the Rockies.

Re: Tony Awards (Tonys or ?Tonies). Its official website uses "Tonys."

The variant "Typhoid Marys" is also more common than "Typhoid Maries."

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  • 2
    That it’s the Wolfs not *the Wolves I find especially interesting.
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 22:33
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    There is of course the extra little twist that ‘two Marys’ means two girls called Mary, while ‘two Maries’ means two girls called Marie. (Edit: I see this was mentioned by GEdgar already.) Jan 15, 2014 at 20:23
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In general you should just add "s".
The Oxford Companion to the English Language mentions occasional exceptions for illustrious names : the Ptolemies, the two Maries.

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  • Why do some proper nouns inflect normally but others do not? Do you really expect there to be two Royal Academys? That looks very wrong.
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 19:28
  • I can think of lots of names that go from -y > -ies in the plural. It doesn’t look right to have -ys in English. Kennedies, Tonies, Peabodies, and Maries all come to mind.
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 19:47
  • I grew up with a family whose surname was Murphy. Everyone called them the Murphies. I’m quite sure that Murphys would not have gone over at all. And I said "two Royal Academys looks very wrong", which isn't quite the same as saying that you were very wrong.
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 20:03
  • 1
    The example used here is Murphy.
    – JLG
    May 20, 2012 at 20:27
  • Dear @tchrist, you have a point with the Murphys: if a family decides how they want their name to be pluralized, it would be quite rude not to take their wish into account. The more usual case, I suppose, would be when you don't know the people in question, which is probably what Ray wants to know. By the way I find it fascinating how grammatical questions get mixed up with questions of gracious behaviour. May 20, 2012 at 21:47
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tchrist may hear of Typhoid Maries, but I don't. Here in the US, the two names Mary and Marie are different, and pronounced differently. Two Maries I would interpret as two people named Marie.

enter image description here

NGRAM link

Similarly, Tonys and Peabodys are more frequent that their ies versions.

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  • What do you think is more sensible: there having once been two Germanys, or two Germanies? I cannot imagine the former.
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 20:41
  • Don’t trust ngrams. Try this alternate google service here, which shows a 1:2 ratio.
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 20:42
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    Improve your imagination: try "two Germanies" and "two Germanys" on Googlefight. googlefight.com/…
    – GEdgar
    May 20, 2012 at 21:24
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    @tchrist: with your Germanys-Germanies you remind me of François Mauriac's quip just after WWII: J'aime tellement l'Allemagne que je suis heureux qu'il y en ait deux. (For non francophone readers : I like Germany so much that I am happy there are two). Und ich bin sicher, dass deutsche Leser genug Humor haben, um den Scherz auch zu genießen! May 20, 2012 at 22:00
  • @tchrist, Googlefight is fun, but it only scans the web, which is a very lopsided view of English. Ngrams is at least normalized data on stuff that has been proofread. Considering that it contains lots of fiction, it presumably contains colloquial usages, though at a lower rate than standard usages. The web is probably the other way around.
    – Old Pro
    May 21, 2012 at 0:15
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You can’t change someone’s name. Kennedy is Kennedy is Kennedy, so you have to write Kennedys. French goes further and won’t even add an ‘s’. It’s ‘les Kennedy’, but French has the advantage of a plural form of the definite article.

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    Then why do we hear of Typhoid Maries then? And what about the band The Dead Kennedies? If you had Mr Bugs Bunny and Mrs Babs Bunny over for dinner, you’d be having the Bunnies over. If someone wins more than one Peabody or Tony Award, they’re said to have several Peabodies or Tonies. So it seems it’s ok after all. You aren’t “changing their name”. You’re merely applying the regular rules of English spelling to regular inflections. Nothing odd about that at all. Next you’ll say you don’t add “-es” to proper nouns that end in “s”, because that would “change their name”.
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 19:42
  • @tchrist: 'Spose I'm just saying what I'd do. I tend not to have rabbits for dinner, not even to eat. May 20, 2012 at 19:52
  • Dear @tchrist, I must concede that your counter-example about the Bunnies plunges me in an abyss of reflection. May 20, 2012 at 19:57
  • @GeorgesElencwajg If you think Bunnies are bad, consider that I live in the Rocky Mountains, which are customarily called the Rockies, never the *Rockys.
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 20:12
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    Ok Barrie, I see your point. Two people named Fairchild are not *Fairchildren. :)
    – tchrist
    May 20, 2012 at 22:54
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I'm short on rep so can't leave a comment, but just want to point out that "Bunny" and "Rocky" are special, in that they are "properizations" of common nouns/adjectives. So "The Rockies" or "The Bunnies" could be considered a special subset of the issue.

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If you're trying to refer to the family members collectively, you can sometimes sidestep this by saying "The Smith family", although it can sound a little too formal in some situations.

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  • While sidestepping the problem may be good advice, you haven't answered this actual question. Dec 7, 2016 at 15:49

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