Wednesday, June 14th, 2017
by Kelly Duggan

Just how important is punctuation in brand names?

We see brand names everywhere we go throughout the day, whether we’re walking past a shop, flicking through a newspaper or magazine, driving past a billboard, watching TV or online – but how often do you notice errors in brand names? And when you do spot an error, does it bother you?

The more you look for them, the more errors you’ll see, and that’s with some pretty big brand names too – Starbucks, Morrisons, Barclays, Waterstones…arguably, they should all have an apostrophe. Lots of brands do include apostrophes in their names, such as Sainsbury’s, McDonald’s, Victoria’s Secret and Timpson’s, but why only some?

Well, each of these brands has its own story, such as Starbucks – they have never actually used an apostrophe and chose not to include one from day one. McDonald’s does include an apostrophe; founded in 1940 by Richard and Maurice McDonald, the apostrophe indicates the possessive. So why didn’t Starbucks choose to include one too? After all, it was named after Starbuck, the first-mate of the ship in Moby Dick.

Well, Waterstones may be able to help us work that out – founded by Tim Waterstone in 1982, the bookshop actually started out as Waterstone’s. In 2012, the bookshop chain was rebranded and the apostrophe was dropped in the process – the new MD justified the decision by saying ‘Waterstones without an apostrophe is, in a digital world of URLs and email addresses, a more versatile and practical spelling’. The company was subject to criticism following media coverage, but five years on, the apostrophe hasn’t returned.

Yes, apostrophes are omitted in URLs and hashtags anyway so there’s a valid argument for them to be left out in these instances, but surely they should still remain everywhere else so rules of grammar and punctuation aren’t broken?

Well, some designers argue that a name can look better without an apostrophe, creating a cleaner design – additionally, as apostrophes are misunderstood and misused by many people, they most likely search for terms online without including an apostrophe, so are brands being clever by omitting them, intelligently improving SEO? How many people, for example, search on Google for McDonald’s and how many search for mcdonalds?

As URLs omit apostrophes, consumers have become accustomed to the exclusion of such punctuation when seeing a business on the web – would you even think to use the right punctuation, capitalise the correct letters and add in an apostrophe? For speed, probably not, as you’ll get the result you want anyway! And this is what many businesses argue when it comes to their brand name – maybe Starbucks were just forward-thinkers.

Do you think this popular lack of apostrophe is admissible? Does a clean design and better search engine ranking make it permissible to ignore grammatical rules? That’s for you to decide and whichever way you sway, Denfield is here to help.