Q: I am directed to address my dental contract queries to an office in St Annes Road, Eastbourne (sic). Being a grumpy old pedant, I often insert an apostrophe as I understand “St Anne’s” to be genitive. Whilst I understand that “St Annes” is in common usage, surely frequency does not make it correct, or does it? Sent with a great big smile.
A: You are correct. “St. Anne’s” is a genitive usage and deserves the apostrophe. However, the use of apostrophes in place names is controversial.
As we wrote in a post last year, postal authorities and governmental agencies commonly eliminate apostrophes in place names and street names as a matter of policy.
They do this not because they believe the usage is grammatically correct, but for reasons of efficiency.
Of course, such bureaucratic edicts fly in the face of grammatical correctness. In ordinary writing, this use of “St. Annes” would be considered an error.
So while governmental bodies may use “St. Annes” on street signs, maps, addresses, and in their own documents, that shouldn’t prevent you from including the apostrophe in your own writing.
We assume that the addition of an apostrophe won’t confuse a clueless postal computer.
In case you’re interested, we wrote on our blog last year about why schools named for saints employ the genitive (St. Mary’s Academy) rather than an ordinary attributive construction (St. Mary Academy).