(NEXSTAR) — You’ve heard of Kroger’s, Nordstrom’s and JCPenney’s. But did you know none of these stores actually exist? That said, Kroger, Nordstrom and JCPenney do.
Odds are you’ve probably heard someone tack on an “s” to the end of store names before (or maybe you grew up doing it) but have you ever wondered why?
Online, there seems to be confusion over who does it. According to various Reddit threads, the linguistic phenomenon is either something southerners do, something Midwesterners do or something older people do.
Nobody is immune from doing it, either. Back in 2021, Pres. Joe Biden was praised (or roasted) for calling the Midwest supermarket chain Meijer “Meijer’s.”
So what’s going on?
It turns out there are a few reasons this happens.
Department stores from the earlier 20th century
In the earlier days of the 20th century (and even the late 19th century), it was commonplace for newly established businesses to proudly bear the name of their founders — and showing that the business belonged to them. That’s called a possessive.
Here are just a few now-defunct department stores that ended in a possessive: Bullock’s, Foley’s, Goldsmith’s, Marshall Field’s, Mervyn’s, J.W. Robinson’s, Stern’s, and Wanamaker’s.
As explained by independent publishing house Hallard Press, the practice was also partially a marketing strategy. “…Using the last name of the owner was a strategy to let buyers know the product was of high quality — why else would the owner take the risk of being associated with it?”
Possessive store names are less omnipresent than they used to be but they’re still pretty common. These are just a few possessively named stores that are still up and running: McDonald’s, Macy’s, Trader Joe’s, Bloomingdale’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and Sam’s Club.
Hallard Press says that our brains are so used to seeing store names that end in possessives that we instinctually “fill in the grammatical blank.”
There are so many classic TV shows and 1930s-mid-60s movies wherein you might hear characters talk about shopping at “Woolworth’s.” That would actually be a reference to F.W. Woolworth Company, one of the U.S.’ original department store chains, which officially went out of business in 1997 after 118 years of operation.
Since F.W. Woolworth Company is such a formal mouthful, the stores were often called “Woolworth’s” — even by the company itself. Much of the company’s signage, promotional materials and products advertised peppy slogans for its short name.
Shortened possessive names are still used in everyday conversation. After all, who hasn’t stepped out for a quick run to Starbz? (Though a case could be made that the name “Starbucks” is already possessive just without an apostrophe — see below for more on this confusing branding tactic).
This practice is so common that while doing research for this story, legitimate news articles and photos were found that listed a store’s possessive shorthand name and not its official name.
Ultimately, it’s also very possible that making a business’ name a possessive is also a kind of term of endearment. Some grocery shopping Texans may feel personal attachment to H-E-B and feel like they’re just visiting a friend’s house.
So many “s” names that aren’t possessives
Adding to the all the possessive name confusion? So many store names end with an “s” (or an “s” sound) but aren’t actually indicating possession.
Here are just a few: Publix, Gadzooks, Bealls, Whole Foods, Big Lots, TJ Maxx, and Sears. The grocery chain Wegmans is a confusing one, since according to the company itself, the Wegmans apostrophe was dropped in 1931 to simplify the logo. Wegmans even estimates adding apostrophes to its signage would cost over $500,000, making the non-possessive possessive name a cost-cutting measure, too.
And Wegmans isn’t alone.
As explained by writer Zoe Yarborough of Style Blueprint for her Grammar Guru column, arts and crafts store Michaels and convenience store Tim Hortons are both possessive, they just dropped the apostrophe.
Why don’t people say “Amazon’s” or “Taco Bell’s”?
Now there are some names you likely just don’t hear people add a possessive to — but why?
While some Redditors have argued you’re unlikely to hear someone call Walmart “Walmart’s,” others swear they’ve heard it before. But you’ll notice that one — and a slew of other potential examples — just don’t roll off the tongue the same way.
” [It] seems to happen most when the store name sounds like a person’s name,” one Redditor offers. “Hence, places like “Walmart” don’t end up being said as “Walmart’s” but places like “Kroger” end up as “Kroger’s.”
Another common theory is that names ending with harsher-sounding consonants are less likely to be turned possessive. Think of “Target” or “Amazon.”
Finally, Yarborough explains, adding an “s” is more common than you might think and isn’t relegated to just one area of the country — or even just the U.S.!
“This happens everywhere, my research finds,” the Grammar Guru says. “I read a lot of articles (and their comments sections) about people doing this in the Midwest and the Northeast, and even in the UK and Australia. It seems this particular slip of the tongue slips all over the English language.”
Ultimately, there’s no harm done either way. Just make sure you double-check before writing out any checks!