8 Brand Names With Punctuation Problems
By Arika Okrent
Punctuation can be a headache, even when it's just inside a name. Here are eight brand names with problems caused by those important little marks.
1. Mini Moo's
Mini Moo’s are little cartons of half and half … wait, that’s not right … Mini Moo’s is a coffee creamer product packaged in an individual serving size. That seems to be how the company wants you to say it. Why else would it have an apostrophe before the s? Who is this Mini Moo that the creamer belongs to? Is she a tiny cow that doles out her milk in tiny portions? Even if we generously assume that was the intended reading, it is too tempting for people to think of a collection of separately packaged individual servings in the plural.
2. Land O Lakes
Land O’Lakes, the maker of Mini Moo’s, has other kinds of apostrophe problems, too. While the name of the corporation is Land O’Lakes, with the apostrophe, the brand name on products is Land O Lakes, without the apostrophe. So Land O Lakes Mini Moo’s is (are?) made by Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Like the o in Land O’Lakes, the o in the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish properly stands for of. In other words that shorten of in this way—like Will-o’-the-wisp, Jack-o’-lantern, cat o’ nine tails, and man-o’-war—an apostrophe stands for the missing letter f. So is there an of in Filet-O-Fish? Is a Filet-O-Fish actually a filet of fish? The only time McDonald’s has used an apostrophe in connection with the Filet-O-Fish was in the name of the sandwich’s (now retired) mascot, Phil A. O’Fish. In that case, it looks like the O’ of Irish surnames, which doesn’t come from the word of, but from an Irish word meaning “descended from.”
4. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s
Are there two letters missing from the name of the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s sports bar franchise? “Beef [F]o[r] Brady’s”? “Beef [N]o[t] Brady’s”? Wait, no. When a letter is dropped from the beginning of a word, there should be a left-facing apostrophe, like the ones in ’tis or get ’em, not a right-facing opening single quote. So what we have here is an O in single quotes. It’s like the O is being used not for its meaning, but as an example of something. Perhaps an example of a symbol of Irish bar themeyness.
5. Lands’ End
Land’s End, with the apostrophe before the s, refers to the tip of a peninsula, as far out as you can go before there’s no more land. But what is Lands’ End supposed to be? The end of a bunch of different lands? Turns out, it’s just an old mistake that never got righted. Founder Gary Comer explained, “it was a typo in our first printed piece, and we couldn’t afford to reprint and correct it.”
6. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
Whose steakhouse is it anyway? In 1965, a Louisiana woman named Ruth Fertel bought a restaurant called Chris Steak House. She got to keep the original name, which was already well-established, on the condition that she stay at the original location. So when she moved to a new location after a fire in 1974, she had to change the name, and it became the complicated mouthful that is Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
7. Toys “R” Us
The backward R on the Toys “R” Us sign is a noticeable part of the brand, but it’s not a punctuation problem. The scare quotes around the R, however, are punctuation, and they do make things difficult. Though the quotes don’t appear on every sign, the original corporate name was Toys “R” Us Inc. before it was resurrected as Tru Kids Inc. in 2019. Why the scare quotes? Do they think we might not realize that they are fully aware that R is not how you spell are? Most style guides advise ditching the quotes when writing about the company. In fact, most style guides recommend avoiding scare quotes altogether. The Chicago Manual of Style notes that they can “irritate readers if overused.”
Style guides also advise against using the exclamation point when writing about Yahoo, which, like a few other brands (Chips Ahoy! and Oh Henry! among them) include the exclamation point as an official part of the name. But not all publications follow that advice, which can lead to excitingly misleading headlines like “Yahoo! Investors Don’t Need to Worry About the IRS.”
A version of this article was originally published in 2015; it has been updated for 2022.