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Is it common for place names to lose the possessive?

I am struggling with the meaning of and the difference between Shifter's Bay and Shifters Bay (don't pay attention to what a shifter is or could be).

As I understand it Shifter's Bay is a bay belonging to a Shifter and Shifters Bay is a bay with, of or/and for Shifters.

Is this correct? Maybe someone can elaborate?

Which is better for a name on a (fictive) bay? Maybe someone can motivate?

Edit: Concrete examples :

  • Pretty new to english.SE so please help me with tagging the question properly. – Qw4z1 Aug 8 '12 at 21:39
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    What is now Hudson Bay was for centuries Hudson's Bay. Geo-names specialists (there really is such a job title) are now busy tidying things up after the fact, but Shifters Bay might represent historical Shifter's Bay or Shifters' Bay. I'd go for whatever looks best or gives you the opportunity to add some color to your story or confusion to your plot. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 8 '12 at 22:31

A possessive sounds unlikely for a location name, however it a be a designation for a place for which you you don't know or want to use the real name. For a fictive location you not use a possessive, you could use, for instance:

  • Smith Bay: the bay named after the guy (nick-)named "Smith" (Smith is a name)
  • Fisher(s) Bay: the bay that used to populated by fisher (fisher is a noun)
  • Monkey(s) Bay: the bay shaped like a monkey, populated by monkeys, ...
  • Emerald(s) Bay: the bay has colour of emerald or is well known for the finding of an emerald in it

Know if you need kids to talk about the lake behind John's farm, you may talk about John's Lake...

Edit: Apparently place named in a possessive manner have drop the apostrophe resulting in names like "Kings Heath Ward", so there might be a -s even when it's not expected.

There's an question with an excellent answer about that (thank you RegDwight АΑA)

  • Right. So Baker's Yard (thisisleicestershire.co.uk/restaurants/bakers-yard/…) is probably named after a Yard owned by the old man Baker? – Qw4z1 Aug 8 '12 at 21:53
  • On the other hand, possessives abound in the UK. And no, Baker's Yard is probably referring to someone who was a baker. – Andrew Leach Aug 8 '12 at 21:54
  • Most probably it was originally owned by the guy, and the named was kept for marketing reasons... or the marketing was the main reason and the old guy never existed ;) Seriously its not actually a location, it's more of a place, so I'm not sure you can apply the same logic – Julien Ch. Aug 8 '12 at 21:57
  • Most likely. =) So there is a difference between a place and a location... I think I have some reading to attend to. – Qw4z1 Aug 8 '12 at 22:00
  • This article talks about the drop of the apostrophes in places names too, it seems there has been a normative decision to remove the apostrophe resulting in name like Kings Norton Castle, so don't be surprised. So the distinction might not be the location vs. place but more about the naming convention used. – Julien Ch. Aug 8 '12 at 22:01

There are no rules for this. You have only to look at 'Board on Geographic Name' (US) or at 'Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names' or at British 'Post Office Guide'.

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