Why Do People Add ‘S’ To Store Names?

Have you ever heard of Nordstrom’s? It’s a trick question.

The name of the store is actually Nordstrom. There is no letter ‘s’ in the name. The same is true with Kroger and JCPenney. Even the president made the mistake with supermarket chain Meijer.

So why do people add ‘s’ to store names?

The most prevalent theory is historical. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, it was common for businesses – and especially department stores – to be named after their founders. By making the name possessive, the owner was essentially vouching for the merchandise.

For example, R.H. Macy founded Macy’s in 1851; Joseph B. and Lyman G. Bloomingdale founded Bloomingdale’s in 1861. In fact, in a list of ~100 defunct U.S. department stores, about half of them are possessive names, including Bullock’s, Filene’s, Marshall Field’s, Mervyn’s, Steiger’s, and Wanamaker’s.

Perhaps our brains are so used to seeing store names ending in possessives that we instinctually add the ‘s’ – even if it doesn’t really belong.

The theory would explain why we are tempted to say Nordstrom’s and JCPenney’s but not Burger King’s or Amazon’s. The first two sound like they are someone’s name while the second two do not.

Although it doesn’t explain why people in my hometown insist on referring to the restaurant as Outback’s.

Complicating the situation, some brands have dropped the apostrophe. I couldn’t find official reasons for Harrods, Michaels, and Tim Hortons, but Wegmans dropped the ‘s’ in 1931 to simplify the logo and save money on signs. Apparently, so did Nordstrom:

Add ‘S’ To the store name Nordstrom
The Seattle Nordstrom in the late 1930s.

One reason might be that companies want to distance themselves from their founders but it’s also consistent with our digital age – Web URLs and social media handles don’t contain apostrophes.

Of course, this confusion only happens in writing. When you verbally ask someone for directions to Macy’s or Harrods, no one can tell if you’re using the correct punctuation.

So, do brands care about whether you add ‘s’ to store names? A few brand spokespeople claimed they didn’t but you be the judge:

Yes, words matter.

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