Company names and possessive nouns

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I was recently editing an essay for a business student when she used the phrase “McDonald’s marketing strategy.” I realized that the company name “McDonald’s” needed an apostrophe to show that the marketing strategy belonged to it, but it already had an apostrophe in the name. If the company name was “McDonald” then, the phrase “McDonald’s marketing strategy” would have been completely right, but I knew that I couldn’t change it to McDonald’s’ marketing strategy. So what could the solution be?

A quick search on the Internet showed me that many companies have dropped the apostrophe altogether, but McDonald’s is not among these. It would have been easy to write Barclays’ marketing strategy, but unfortunately, that’s not the kind of change an editor is allowed to make.

I thought of using the old editor’s trick of rearranging the sentence, making “the marketing strategy of McDonald’s” but it seemed too awkward. Finally, I turned to my partner, who chides me from time to time on my obsession with correct grammar. She asked me “WWGGD?” (What would Grammar Girl do?) I told her that I was seriously considering leaving a question on Grammar Girl’s website.

But she also, slyly, asked me to explain the problem to her. I told her that since McDonald’s already had an apostrophe in the business name, but the business name was being used as a possessive noun, the dilemma was how to structure a possessive noun as a possessive noun when it’s already a possessive noun. If this doesn’t make sense to you, then you are on the right track to the solution.

I realized that the reason that McDonald’s has a possessive format is that the actual name of the restaurant chain is McDonald’s Restaurants. When we say McDonald’s we are dropping the noun that is the complement of the possessive noun. And there was the solution: the phrase should be McDonald’s Restaurants’ marketing strategy.

So thanks Grammar Girl, your help was channeled through my beautiful and inspiring partner.

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