Your Complete Guide to Addressing Holiday Cards
Since we’re nearing the end of the year, I’m here with a timely public service announcement about how to pluralize last names. We’ll go over indicating possession while we’re at it.
First, some context. Since taking the last name “Perkins” when I got married 31 years ago, I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t know how to pluralize properly. It can be tricky and confusing; I get it. Take, for example, my name in contrast to that of my friend Jana Parkin. Our last names are similar, but crucially different for our purposes here today. She and her husband Jeff are the Parkins. Patrick and I are the Perkinses. Note the complete lack of apostrophe in either case.
I’ll elaborate. Why is there a picture of cute foxes at the head of this newsletter? Because they’re going to help you remember these rules. At the risk of sounding Seussian, one box, two boxes; one fox, two foxes.
Let’s say the surname of our furry pals is Fox. The cute Fox family would then also be known as the Foxes. (Alternatively, you can think of the cliché “keeping up with the Joneses,” which was apparently invented when people still knew how to do this right.)
It’s exactly the same with any surname ending in S (or X or Z or or SH or CH*). Just add “-es” whenever you want to refer to all of them. We are the Perkins family, or the Perkinses. Our neighbors the Hopkinses live across the street, while the Jarvises live about five minutes away. Our friends the Leibowitzes live in Manhattan, but our friends the Checkettses live in London. The beloved sisters in Little Women are the Marches. The famous Mets first baseman Keith and his family are the Hernandezes. Are you starting to get it?
*This only applies to names ending in CH if the sound is soft, as in either “church” or “charade” — Burch/Burches or Tisch/Tisches. If the CH is hard (sounds like a K), as in “school,” it gets treated as such — Deitrich/Deitrichs or Bach/Bachs.
Whenever I see mail addressed to “The Perkins,” I think of Scottish clans, who called their chieftains “The” plus their clan name — like “The MacDougal” or “The Grant.” And then, giggling, I imagine my hot husband in a kilt brandishing a sword — which is dreamy, but not what the sender intended at all, I’m sure.
Also, my friend Julie Berry would want to interject at this point that if someone’s last name ends in Y, you do not pluralize it with “-ies.” Ever. For any reason. They are the Berrys, not the Berries.
Let’s briefly turn our attention to possessives for first names that end in S. My son James’s name is possessified (I made that word up) the same way my son Christian’s is: simply ‘s. That’s apostrophe S. Not an apostrophe all alone after his name. It’s the same with my daughters; Tess’s church mission is in Paris, while Hope’s was in Boston.
Do not use ‘s to pluralize. Ever. An apostrophe is only for possessive situations. One box’s labels; two boxes’ labels. One fox’s tail; two foxes’ tails.
Now it’s time to put all the rules together.
Mrs. Perkins’s house (One Perkins takes an apostrophe S.)
The Perkinses’ house (Two or more Perkinses, and the apostrophe will come last. This is the only time the apostrophe comes last — with a plural possessive.)
But with an address or a plaque, or when referring to the family: The Perkinses.
It’s Jerzy Janowicz’s tennis racket, but the Janowiczes’ (meaning the whole family’s) tennis court. And they are the Janowiczes.
Let’s really make sure you have this down. Take philosopher William James and his wife, Alice Howe Gibbens. They and their children were the Jameses. Alice Gibbens’s birthplace was New York City, and Mr. James’s country house was in New Hampshire, but the Jameses’ main residence was in Boston. See?
So. You’re about to start addressing your holiday cards. Charles and Betty Hickox are on your list. Your envelope should look something like this:
445 Shady Glen Drive
Allentown, PA 18106
Next up is the Schwartz family:
115 Rancho Lane
Brentwood, CA 90049
Curve ball — then comes a family with a name ending in Y:
33 Sandy Avenue
Narragansett, RI 02882
You’re all pros now, right? Brilliant. I expect that all the holiday cards I get in future will be addressed correctly. I have full confidence in you. Go forth and conquer!
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