Column: On the family name

Question: “I recently read a post on Facebook that pointed out the incorrect use of the apostrophe to pluralize a last name. Having married in to my last name, I have used the apostrophe learned by the rest of the family. Not to believe everything I read on the Internet, I decided I would ask the grammar guy. Which is correct when signing my Christmas cards – The Watts’ or The Wattses? (I frequently use The Watts Family to avoid this dilemma)” – (Gail Watts, Fishers)

Answer: Well, we didn’t get this cleared up in time for Christmas cards, I’m afraid, but we can at least make sure your Easter cards are correct. (Do people send Easter cards? Why don’t I get any?)

There are only a few very specific circumstances in which you use an apostrophe to make a word plural, and names aren’t one of them. (If you’re interested in when you do use an apostrophe for this purpose, you can check out all of the old issues of Grammar Guy on the Current website.)

Now the question is whether your name needs a simple “s” or an “es” to become plural.

If a name ends in “s,” “x,” “z,” “ch,” or “sh,” it needs an “es” to become plural. The Lopezes. The Marshes. The Wattses. All other names just get an “s.”

Now, you might not like how “The Wattses” looks. Neither does Microsoft Word, which has given it an angry red squiggly line on my screen. Word is wrong – but your opinion is valid. The way to avoid a construction you don’t like is to do exactly what you did: turn your last name into an adjective, followed by “family.” The Watts Family is perfectly acceptable (still no apostrophe though!).

Thank you for writing in, and hopefully that clears up your holiday card confusion. Keep sending in your questions to the Grammar Guy, and I’ll keep doing my best to answer them!