I spent this past weekend with women I’ve been friends with for 40 years. It was long overdue and delightful, and I laughed until my stomach hurt. But my eyes also hurt because while driving through the countryside to get to the beachfront rental, I’d repeatedly see people’s last names on signs in front of their properties with an incorrect apostrophe. You’ve seen these signs, I’m sure. They are usually carved or painted wood, with a small “The” in the upper left corner above the family name, which is often incorrectly spelled with an apostrophe to make it plural.

That’s not how you make the surname plural.

If apostrophes were only an issue on such signs, it wouldn’t bother me quite so much, but apostrophes seem to confound people in their business writing too. So let’s quickly go over how to use apostrophes with a name and see that that helps.

Let’s use my last name (Ernst) as an example…

  • To refer to me and my husband (a plural), you’d write Ernsts, no apostrophe, as in, “Did you invite the Ernsts to the wedding?”
  • To refer to me by my last name and indicate something belonging to me, you’d write Ernst’s, as in, “Ernst’s big pickup truck is blocking the driveway again.”
  • To refer to me and my husband and indicate something belonging to us, you’d write Ernsts’, as in, “Have you been to the Ernsts’ place lately?”

All those signs I saw on my drive? Wrong, because they tried using an apostrophe to make the surname plural, but in reality made it a possessive. I hope that helps!