By Charles Layton
In the midst of all these recent stories about Day’s Ice Cream, the Grammarian has noticed a nagging problem of punctuation. In fact, the Grammarian has concluded that it’s an issue our community can no longer ignore.
I refer, of course, to the lack of an apostrophe in the name of the place. The sign in the window says, simply: Days.
Elsewhere, though — on websites and in promotional material — one does find an apostrophe. In fact, the owners’ new outlet in Asbury Park calls itself Just Another Day’s. A clever name. But notice that, unlike its Ocean Grove parent, it does have an apostrophe.
The Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce’s website also spells the name with an apostrophe. But in reviewing various other websites that list Day’s –including merchantcircle.com, menupix.com, company.com and bringfido.com — we found that some do use the apostrophe and some don’t. Inconsistency reigns.
We at Blogfinger have been a part of this problem. We’ve sometimes gone with the apostrophe, sometimes not, as the spirit moved us. So we now feel obliged to clear things up.
On first consideration, our conclusion was that the name requires an apostrophe. It’s a possessive noun.
But not so fast! A question remains as to where to put that apostrophe, and that question leads us into a grammatical briar patch.
Day’s is reported to have been founded in 1876 by two brothers, William F. and Pennington Day. So if the business belonged to two individuals, both named Day, one would think it should properly have been spelled using the plural possessive form — Days’ Ice Cream. The apostrophe should go after the “s” that forms the plural, not before it.
Later in its history, the place fell into the hands of Agnes Day, the sister of the two brothers. If the ownership was then solely hers, she might have wanted to change the word from plural possessive to singular possessive, which would be Day’s.
Early photographs of the building, however, show the name Days on the front with no apostrophe at all. What could that mean? Could it mean that the original owners, the Day brothers, didn’t know their grammar and punctuation? Or could it be that they didn’t think of the name as being in the possessive case at all? That would be valid. While many businesses and products named for a person are cast in the possessive case — examples would be Macy’s Department Store, Hershey’s Chocolate and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream – many others are not. Think of Ford Motor Company, Reynolds Wrap, Pillsbury Pancake Mix, Oscar Mayer Bacon, Calvin Klein Underwear. In these cases, the persons’ names are not treated as possessive nouns but as modifying adjectives, which don’t take an apostrophe.
It’s just possible that the two Day brothers knew exactly what they were doing back in the 19th century. They didn’t think of the use of their name as a possessive. They thought of it the way Calvin Klein and Mr. Pillsbury did, and so didn’t use an apostrophe. Later, probably some time in the 20th century, other owners must have started to assume that the name Days was meant to be possessive, so they started adding the apostrophe. But since the glass on the storefront of the building has historical value, and is a work of art, you can see why no subsequent owner would have wished to replace it — or, worse yet, to paint in an apostrophe. Sometimes history and aesthetics trump grammatical correctness.
But what I’m saying is that, seen from one point of view, the original spelling — the spelling on that storefront window — is correct after all. But that doesn’t mean the Chamber of Commerce and the bringfido website and the Day’s outlet in Asbury Park have it wrong. The arguments for and against the apostrophe seem equally valid, depending on the original intent of the founders, which is impossible to know. (The Day brothers might not have given a rip. They might have left it to the discretion of the sign painter. Where does that put us?)
So here is the Grammarian’s final ruling:
The lack of an apostrophe has a strong historical precedent. We should go with that.