close
close

The Council claims that database pain forced it to remove apostrophes from street names. • The register

A row in Britain has local residents and councilors at odds over apostrophes, and yes – there is actually a technical angle to this.

North Yorkshire Council recently decided to remove apostrophes from street names as these and other punctuation marks apparently do not cope well with geographical databases.

This did not go over well.

For example, in the town of Harrogate, a new sign for St Mary’s Walk reading “St Marys Walk” is seen as a sign of the general decline of the modern era. Speaking to the BBC, people from St Marys Walk urged the council to reinstate the apostrophe or “everything would go downhill”.

“I walk past the sign every day and it chills my blood when I see inappropriate grammar or punctuation,” scolded one resident. The apostrophe of the offending sign has been restored – not by the council, but by an enterprising grammarian with a black marker.

Apostrophes discouraged

This debate about grammar may be raging in Britain, but in the United States the thorny issue of punctuated place names was tackled more than a century ago with the creation of the Board of Geographic Names.

The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), implemented in 1890, “discourages” the use of the possessive apostrophe in place names, with only five exceptions allowed since enforcement began: Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; Ike’s Point, New Jersey; John E’s Pond, Rhode Island; Joshua View of Carlos Elmer, Ariz.; and Clark’s Mountain, Oregon.

Although the GNIS does not define road names (which are administered at the state level), the precedent it set is generally followed, with many regulations in the US discouraging or prohibiting the use of apostrophes in geographic place names – including roads. .

Speaking to the BBC, the English council argued that British policy was also behind the change.

“All punctuation will be considered but avoided where possible as street names and addresses, when stored in databases, must comply with the standards set out in BS7666,” a council spokesperson explained, referring to this red tape .

“This limits the use of punctuation and special characters to avoid potential problems when searching the databases, as these characters have specific meanings in computer systems,” the spokesperson added.

And while the spokesperson is right to say that some jurisdictions have taken similar actions, it’s important to note that others that tried to move away from this type of punctuation changed course after similar public backlash.

Meanwhile, a review of BS7666 made little mention of the topic – although we did find one mention in chapter 5.4.4.1 (PDF) of part two of the combined guidelines.

“Abbreviations and punctuation may not be used,” the rule states, “unless they appear in the designated name, for example, ‘Dr Newton’s Way’.” St. Mary should let her walk then, shouldn’t she?

That wording in the rule makes it very much appear that there is no restriction on punctuation in BS7666. We’ve contacted North Yorkshire Council to inquire about that justification – and whether it’s just a post-hoc justification for an aesthetic choice – and have yet to hear back.

We have to ask ourselves: what are they worried about? Someone proposing a new road called Sir Bobby’);DROP TABLE payroll;–? ®