JS Tip 420: Apostrophes and Possession, Part II

From the Writing Workshops: Apostrophes and Possession, Part II

We’ve been talking about the use of possessives. Last week, we promised you a discussion about an exception.

Pop quiz: 

Question One. Which is correct: “Pike’s Peak” or “Pikes Peak”?

Question Two. Which is correct: “Martha’s Vineyard” or “Marthas Vineyard”?

The answers: “Pikes Peak” and “Martha’s Vineyard.”

But that doesn’t make any sense.

You’re absolutely right.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names discourages possessives (the apostrophe and the s) for government place names.

They give no reason for their policy, but scholars believe it’s based on the fear that any form of possession could show ownership. (Like the family of Zebulon Pike could claim ownership of the Colorado mountain.)

Since 1890, the Board has allowed five apostrophes:

Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts (in 1933) after a citizens’ campaign to keep the apostrophe.

Ike's Point in New Jersey (in 1944) because Ikes might sound like Ikus.

John E's Pond in Rhode Island (in 1963) because John Es would probably be pronounced John Ess.

Carlos Elmer's Joshua View in Arizona (in 1995) because the lack of an apostrophe would change the meaning. At one time, Carlos Elmer owned land overlooking a stand of Joshua Trees. Without the apostrophe, the name becomes three first names: Carlos, Elmer, and Joshua. Confusing.

Clark’s Mountain in Oregon (in 2002) to respect explorer William Clark (of Lewis and Clark).

Interesting stuff. Next week, we’ll talk about joint and group ownership. We love this stuff.


Mark Brooks