Column: How to own apostrophes


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

John Lennon famously got in trouble in August 1966 when an interview from March of the same year dug up a single quote where he stated that The Beatles were (at the time) “more popular than Jesus.”

Although this quote from a March interview was out of context, it led to many former fans burning Beatle records in big, radio station-backed bonfires. It even led to some credible death threats during their 1966 U.S. tour, which was one of the reasons The Beatles stopped touring at the end of that year.

For the record, I’m a huge fan of both Jesus and The Beatles, but that’s not what we’re talking about today. Today, I’d like to discuss what to do with possessive proper names that end in “s.” Not only do we need to know whether or not they need an apostrophe and an “s” after them, but we also need to know how to pronounce them. We can work it out.

Let’s think of some proper names that end with “s”: Jesus, Beatles, Kansas, Curtis and the lesser-known Greek philosopher Apostrophes (the last one is fake, but otherwise that is an excellent list). When we talk about the sandals that belonged to Jesus, how do we write it? Is it “Jesus’ sandals” or “Jesus’s sandals”? As usual, it depends on whom you ask.

The AP Stylebook (which is the gold standard for newspaper writing) states that an apostrophe on its own is enough, while the Chicago Manual of Style prefers the apostrophe followed by “s”. So, AP would write “Jesus’ sandals” while Chicago would write “Jesus’s sandals.” Because I write for newspapers, I almost always agree with AP style.

How do you pronounce these words? I’m a fan of pronouncing words like they’re written. The Beatles’ music inspired the new movie “Yesterday.” When saying this sentence aloud, I would say “Beatles,” not “Beatlesez.” Similarly, I prefer “Jesus’ sandals certainly logged many miles as he visited several ancient cities.” I would pronounce the name “Jesus,” not “Jesusez.” Not everyone will agree with me here, but it’s not something over which I’d break fellowship and start a new denomination. If you disagree with my all-or-nothing approach, I encourage you to simply let it be.