The apostrophe guide for family names

Oh, the apostrophe and family names - it tricks even the most well read and smartest of folks. Every year I am amazed how many holiday cards we get with apostrophe mistakes on them. When to use it, how to use it and when NOT to use it can be pretty confusing. So hopefully this guide will help clear that up. I have to correct orders almost daily so that they are grammatically correct.

Family names seem to be where most people get tripped up. So how do you pluralize a family name to refer to the whole family? It is tempting to say “the Smith’s” but you would be incorrect! The apostrophe is used to indicate possession, not plurality. I think of it like this - the apostrophe states they own something. Not that they are a group of people.So the correct method would be “The Smiths.” 

Now, what happens when you have an unusual family name? For example, the Jones family? It already ends with an -s so what do we do? Here is a handy shortcut guide for how to pluralize.

  • If the name ends in -s, -x, -z, -ch, or -sh, add -es to the end
    Example: Jones would become the Joneses
  • If the name ends in any other letter, just add -s
    Example: Austin would become Austins

What happens if you DO want to indicate that something belongs to the family? You pluralize THEN add an apostrophe. 

For example, I have a grocery list design, and the family name appears above the words “grocery list” - in this case, you could say The Smiths’ grocery list to indicate that the list BELONGS to the Smith family. 

Still with me? There is one other confusing scenario I just want you to watch out for.

The one time when things get hairy is when you have a single person, whose name ends with s. In this case you can choose to either tack on just the apostrophe at the end, or add -’s. For example, Mr. Jones’ house vs Mr. Jones’s house. I’ve found that the internet experts don’t agree on the perfect way to handle this, but when in doubt, just use the apostrophe at the end!

Don't like the way the name looks with the -s or -es?? Best alternative is to keep the name the way it is regularly used and just make it "The Smith Family" and you can't go wrong!

Pretty much any design we offer can work for a family, but I have a whole section dedicated to families here! Check them out and get some ideas!


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