CS Sealey

New Zealand-based sub-editor, writer and author

The absent possessive apostrophe

It has been a common practise in my home country of Australia, and many other places overseas, to name things after a person or a thing and neglect to add the grammatically correct possessive apostrophe. For example:

Surfers Paradise

Blues Point

Frenchs Forest

St Helens Ave

Surfers Paradise is a tourist hotspot on the east coast of Australia—an attractive hub for families intent upon visiting the several theme parks in the area and also one of many destinations where newly graduated teenagers go to get drunk every year. But what does the name mean?

Simplified, the form of the name Surfers Paradise looks like this: Plural Noun, Noun. Put like this, it makes no sense without punctuation. It’s just two words sitting next to each other, like ‘apples orange’.

Surfers Paradise should be either Surfer’s Paradise (if there’s only one surfer) or Surfers’ Paradise (if there are multiple surfers). Since thousands of surfers flock there every year, Surfers’ Paradise is grammatically correct in this situation.

Blues Point, however, is named after a man—Billy Blue. It lies at the very tip of McMahons Point—yet another location without an apostrophe—and overlooks the stunning Sydney Harbour Bridge. Both these names should have apostrophes, expressing their ownership, but they sadly don’t.

As to why this is the case, the reason is a fairly pathetic one. The Australian Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping and their counterparts elsewhere in the world have established policies which omit the apostrophe on geographical names. Why? Well, they decided that they didn’t want to imply literal ownership in the names, so removed the possessive apostrophe. While this explanation seems to have an ounce of reason, it’s overshadowed by the blindingly obvious fact that Blues Point is still called Blues Point. Whether the apostrophe is there or not, the truth is that the place is named after the man who once owned most of that land.

What are the governmental bodies afraid of? Do they expect another Billy Blue to stroll down to Blues Point and declare himself the lord of all who now live there or something? Come on…!

The lack of correct grammar in place names is a pet hate of mine. My heart should not leap for joy and my mouth should not slide into a wide grin whenever I see a possessive apostrophe used correctly on a sign! Alas, that is what happens.

What is interesting is that, for once, this is not a mistake we writers have made—it’s the government’s fault. Rebellion!

For more information on possessive apostrophes, click here.

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