It’s time to address that stack of holiday greeting cards, and you want to address the first one to your friend Tom Brown and his family. So following what you see many other people do, you naturally address the envelope to:
The Browns’ …
Red alert! Red alert!
You’re falling into a common pitfall of English grammar. By using that apostrophe (the squiggly thing), you’re confusing two bedrocks of grammar: possessives and plurals.
Possessives (as the name implies) indicate possession: Mary Green’s car, Tom Clancy’s novel, Seward’s folly, Ohm’s law. The apostrophe signals the possession.
But when we’re talking about addressing mail to Tom Brown and family, we’re talking about plurals, not possessives. Plural (as the name implies) means more than one. One Brown is singular; two or more are plural: Browns.
So if we address mail to the whole Brown family, we address it to: the Browns.
Note that there’s no apostrophe in this usage. In fact, let’s save that apostrophe for when it truly is needed. (After all, according to highly unreliable sources, 90 percent of the Earth’s apostrophes come from a single apostrophe mine on a small Pacific island, and the supply is projected to run out by the year 2035. So let’s all help the planet and not misuse apostrophes on our holiday cards. The apostrophe you save may be your own.)
But still, we’re faced with the question: How do we make a plural out of confusing surnames?
The good news: Most surnames just add an -s to make them plural: one Napoleon; two Napoleons. One Lincoln; two Lincolns. (That’s why Mary and Abe spent each December opening mail addressed collectively to “the Lincolns.”)
The big exception for adding just an -s comes when the surname itself ends in -s, -x or -z. For these names, add an -es to make them plural.
Thus, because the name Jones already ends in an -s, when we address it to the whole Jones family, as a plural, we phrase it the Joneses.
For mail to the Adams family, make it the Adamses.
Following the rule above, mail to the Cox family should go to the Coxes.
Cards to the Gonzalez family are addressed to the Gonzalezes.
But what about names ending in “y”? With normal words that aren’t proper names, nouns ending in -y often become -ies to become plural. Examples: one city, two cities; one pony, two ponies.
People’s names that end in -y, however, are treated differently. As a plural, most just add -s.
Thus, the mail goes to the McCoys or the Duffys
A book from grammar expert Bryan A. Garner offers up further guidance on how to make surnames plural:
One final point about addressing holiday cards: Not every family these days uses the same surname. So you may find yourself using both first and last names: Mary Brown and Tom Green. And in hyphenates, pluralize the last name: the Pinkett-Smiths, the Biel-Timberlakes and the Lambert-Sheltons.
Of course, all of the above rules apply when you’re writing your family’s name on holiday greetings, whether your surname is Rudd (Best wishes from the Rudds!), Riggle (Happy holidays from the Riggles!) or Sudeikis (Happy New Year from the Sudeikises!).
But still: no apostrophe!