When Is It Ok to Change the Punctuation or Spelling in a Company’s Name?

My colleague Paul and I had a fun debate today. Here’s a recap:

Organizations like Debevoise & Plimpton, Ben & Jerry’s, and Barnes & Noble all spell their names with an ampersand (“&”). (For official confirmation, I checked their SEC filings.)

I always change the “&” to “and”; Paul declines the edit. Respect the company’s choice, he says.

Am I distorting these companies’ choices, their legal names, in some cases their trademarks? Well, yes!

But I do it for the sake of standardization. For the same reason, back when “Yahoo” was spelled “Yahoo!” and “Recode,” “Re/code,” I removed the “!” and “/.”

And yet, as much as it pains me, I wouldn’t correct “Chick-fil-A” to “Chick Fillet,” or “Dunkin’ Donuts” to “Dunkin’ Doughnuts.” Isn’t this a glaring inconsistency?

No. To me, “&” and “!” are mere punctuation marks, which editors rightly change to fit their house style. Ditto for “centre” to “center” or “behaviour” to “behavior.” By contrast, changing the actual spelling of a name is a bridge too far.

For example, tweaking “Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services” to “Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services” is a matter of style. But tweaking “Publix” to “Public” is a matter of substance.

(For a fascinating backgrounder on this subject, check out this article in Slate by Matthew J.X. Malady.)

Postscript (9/15/2018):

Somehow, I overlooked another punctuation mark: The missing comma. For example, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is a title of a book by Jimmy Carter. “Bed Bath & Beyond” is the name of a retailer.

I cringe when writing these appellations because they’re so obviously missing a comma.

The question: Should we correct them (to Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid and “Bed, Bath & Beyond”)?

Postscript (9/18/2018):

Sadly — or perhaps unsurprisingly — Paul, John, and I are still discussing this. Thanks to Paul for getting to the heart of the matter:

“There’s little agreement on which attributes qualify as intrinsic:

“1. Is the use of an ampersand in place of “and” an intrinsic part of an organization’s name?

“2. Is an apostrophe’s misuse (“Lands’ End”), absence (“Joes Diner”), or spurious use (imagine a “Linens’ and Things”) an intrinsic part of a company’s name?

“3. Is a nonstandard use of uppercase or lowercase an intrinsic part of a company’s name?

All good questions.

No comments:

Post a Comment