Apostrophes and place names

In Australia, it is quite simple, if ungrammatical and plain stupid. A bureaucratic body ( the Geographical Names Board) decided back in 1966 that no Australian place names should contain apostrophes.  This means we are stuck with wrong-looking (and, in my view, plain wrong) names such as Devils Marbles (thankfully, we can use the Indigenous name, Karlu Karlu for that), Cooper Creek, Surfers Paradise, Crows Nest, Kings Cross, St Helens, St Georges Terrace, and the grammatical and spelling abomination that is the Melbourne suburb of Fishermans Bend (the Tasmanian town of St Marys is probably the second most grammatically appalling Australian place name). From mountain ranges and rivers through suburbs and down to the tiniest creek and laneway: no apostrophes, ever.  This rule does not apply to individual buildings, so St Paul’s, St Patrick’s and St Mary’s cathedrals, for example, retain their apostrophes.

A similar situation applies to place names in the United States of America, although five American place names, including Martha’s Vineyard, have been allowed to have apostrophes (for more information on these, read this excellent article by Paul Anthony Jones). But the United Kingdom retains its apostrophes: King’s Cross in London (unlike Kings Cross in Sydney), for example, does have an apostrophe.

The official name of Keoghs Creek in Tasmania has no apostrophe. While signwriters are often criticised for incorrect usage of apostrophes, this ‘error’ is one I am personally delighted to see.

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Photos:  Surfers Paradise sign by Tanisha Ngo on Unsplash; Fishermans Bend sign © CBRE Melbourne; Keogh’s Creek Walk courtesy of Shane McKeogh; all other images copyright and courtesy of Garry Coxhead

8 comments on “Apostrophes and place names”

  1. Garry Neeman Reply

    Hi Susan – I came across your website when I Googled “dow place names usually carry an apostrophe” (that’s what I actually typed with a typo in the first word). I’d just seen a reference in FB to “Frazer’s Creek” as part of a new businesses logo.

    The possessive apostrophe stood out, so I consulted the NSW Geographical Name Board” website to check the punctuation – it’s “Frazers Creek”. However, I then wondered if there might be some place/feature names that carried an apostrophe. That’s when I found you.

    I’m very much an amateur grammarian.


  2. Phil Sands Reply

    As a visitor to Australia (from the UK) I was surprised to see how many Fish & Chip’s and even Fish & Chips’ shops there are!

    • Susan Reply

      Thanks Phil. Errant apostrophes are everywhere: perhaps this just shows that editors should be employed more widely! I hope you enjoy your time in Australia.

    • Susan Reply

      Hi Adi,

      I’m delighted that you would like to share this. Please do.

      Kind regards,


  3. Nicole Reply

    Well that solved a problem for me. I think it is crazy to be so cruel to grammar but I will have to accept this!

  4. Warren Reply

    Thanks for the post! I was curious as to why there are so many place names in Australia that are missing a possessive apostrophe. Your post has satisfied my curiosity. The decision by the Geographical Names Board is regrettable, as it helps perpetuate the misuse (or absence) of the possessive apostrophe in Australians.

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