Usage Notes

Plural and Possessive Names: A Guide

Why is it Socrates' deathbed but Dickens's novels?

What to Know

Names are proper nouns, which become plurals the same way that other nouns do: add the letter -s for most names (“the Johnsons,” “the Websters”) or add -es if the name ends in s or z (“the Joneses,” “the Martinezes”). To show possession using an apostrophe, add ’s for individuals (“Smith’s car”) and just the apostrophe after the s for plurals (“the Smiths’ car”). If a family name ends with an s or z, you can choose to use just the apostrophe (“the Williams’ dog”) or ’s (“the Williams’s dog”). By convention, names from classical mythology and the Bible ending in s show possession with the apostrophe only (“Jesus’ teachings”).

The plurals of last names are just like the plurals of most nouns. They typically get formed by adding -s. Except, that is, if the name already ends in s or z. Then the plural is formed by adding -es.

the Smith clan → the Smiths

Jill and Sam Clarence → the Clarences

Mr. and Mrs. Jones → the Joneses

the Fernandez family → the Fernandezes

socrates death or socrates death

"And remember—it's Socrates' deathbed, but Zeus's lovers."

Unlike regular nouns that end in y, names that end in y are also made plural by adding -s:

the Kennedy clan → the Kennedys

the Daley family → the Daleys

Possession And Names

If you want to talk about something that belongs to more than one member of a family, you start with the plural form and add an apostrophe to show possession:

the Smiths' car

a party at the Fernandezes' house

the Daleys' driveway

If you want to talk about something that belongs to a single person being identified by last name, you follow the usual -'s rule for most names:

the car that belongs to Smith → Smith's car

For names that end in an s or z sound, though, you can either add -'s or just an apostrophe. Going with -'s is the more common choice:

the car that belongs to Jones → Jones's car or Jones' car

Special Rules for Classical Names

For classical and biblical names there are other rules. For names ending in s or es and having two or more syllables, you usually just add an apostrophe. If the name is only one syllable, add -'s.

Socrates' students

Ramses' kingdom

Amos' prophecy

Zeus's warnings

The names Jesus and Moses are always made possessive with the apostrophe alone:

Jesus' disciples

Moses' law

Silent Ending Letters

The usual way to show possession with a name that ends in a silent s, z, or x is with -'s.

Didier Deschamps's career

Josquin des Prez's music

Eugène Delacroix's paintings


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