The Writer’s Toolbox – A Company Affair, Part II

Last week we began looking at how to spell company names, brand names, and trademarked words and phrases in your writing. As I noted, it’s important to get brand or trademarked names right?while minimizing distractions to the reader. This sometimes means bending the rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage in order to accommodate the uniqueness of the name.

In the beginning
When you’re beginning a sentence with a lowercased brand or company name like eBay, ignore your inner punctuation guru and start the sentence with the lowercased letter. Better still, rewrite the sentence to avoid the problem entirely.

Example A: iOS apps usually aren’t compatible with Android phones. This looks weird, but it’s not incorrect. Still, given the chance for confusion, a rework is better. Here are some possibilities:

Example B1: Usually iOS apps aren’t compatible with Android phones.

Example B2: Most iOS apps aren’t compatible with Android phones.

Example B3: Android phones usually won’t run iOS apps.

As you can see, rewriting?unless you absolutely can’t avoid it?is an easy solution.

Better than one
How do you form the plural of a trademarked word, like a brand or product name? These can be tricky if you think of them as traditional plurals. Instead, use this as your guiding principle: add whatever conveys the plural but doesn’t affect the integrity of the trademarked name.

Example C (singular): I handed him a Curly Wurly.

Example D (plural): I handed him several Curly Wurlys.

Does it look odd? While a noun that ends in ?y would normally be ?ies in the plural form, in this case we simply add an ?s to avoid changing the trademarked name.

Example E: He sat at the bar and ordered two Stroh’s.

This also may look incorrect, since plurals normally never end with an apostrophe + s. However, once again it’s important to think about the trademarked name. The brand is Stroh’s, whether you order one glass or several. You wouldn’t add an ?s to “Stroh’s”?it looks bizarre?so the plural is left as-is.

In possession
Possessives usually aren’t an issue with trademarks and company names; most of the time you add an apostrophe + s, just like you would normally (or just the apostrophe, depending on the style guide you’re following). It’s a little more confusing when you’re dealing with a name that already has an apostrophe, like McDonald’s.

Most editors agree that the ideal solution is to rewrite the sentence to avoid the problem. But barring that, as suggested in Garner’s Modern American Usage, leave the apostrophe as-is and let the context imply the possession. Cringe away, but it’s considered acceptable when there’s little chance of readers becoming confused?and clarity is the main goal here, after all.

Example F1 (not preferred): McDonalds’s third-quarter earnings are intriguing.

Example F2 (acceptable, but…): McDonald’s third-quarter earnings are intriguing.

Example F3 (avoids the problem, but…): McDonald’s reported intriguing third-quarter earnings.

Example F4: (avoids the problem, but…): McDonald’s had intriguing third-quarter earnings.

Note that the rewrite in Example F3 is problematic, since there might be confusion about whether it’s a sentence fragment with “McDonald’s” as a possessive noun instead of a nonpossessive noun and “reported” as an adjective rather than a verb. In that case, it’s simply better and clearer to go with Example F2 or Example F4 (though this latter is a little dull and flat sounding).

Next week we’ll move on to some of the trickier usage questions about brand and trademark names, like what you can abbreviate, what you can genericize (is it okay to “xerox” a report?), and when you should substitute generic brands for real brand names.

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.