Mrs. Mears wondered whether the way she pronounces her last name determines how she should make it plural. Are she and her husband the Mears or the Mearses?
Last week a woman asked me how to make her last name plural. She has recently married and become Mrs. Mears, and she wanted to know whether she and her husband are simply the Mears, or if together, they are the Mearses (making it plural by adding an -es to the end).
“I am aware that if the word ends with an -s you would normally add an -es to pluralize as in Lewis and the Lewises. However, I have also heard about the exception when the word that ends in an -s has the sound of a z such as Withers as opposed to an s sound as with Lewis.
I used to think the plural would be "the Mearses," but after some research I am wondering if perhaps it should indeed be "the Mears."
Her question made me pause. I was 99% sure it should be the Mearses, but when she mentioned the sounds-like-z rule, I vaguely remembered hearing something like that somewhere, so I did some research just to be sure.
Most Sources Say to Add -es to the End
The Chicago Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook, Garner’s Modern American Usage, and the Cambridge Guide to English Usage all say to make names that end with -s plural by adding -es, and they make no exceptions for pronunciation. Garner is particularly adamant that adding -es is the only way to do it.
The one source I found that does mention the z-exception is the online Guide to Grammar and Writing produced by the Capital Community College Foundation, and even they say there are exceptions to the rule. For example, the site says it should be Joneses even though Jones ends with a z-sound. I usually consider that site to be a credible source, but in this case, with so many other sources lined up against it, and it not being all that firm about the rule, I’d say to ignore their advice and go with adding -es in all cases and saying, “We are the Mearses.”
It’s Difficult to Have a Rule Based on Pronunciation
The z-sound rule is also a problem for another reason besides all the style guides lining up against it: it’s hard to determine whether a name ends with an s-sound or a z-sound—at least it is for me. I tried the trick Gretchen recommended in her article on the Canadian pronunciation of the word about. I put my hand on my throat when I pronounced Mears, Jones, and some other names to see if I could feel a buzzing, which would indicate I was making a z-sound. Sometimes I was and sometimes I wasn’t. The pronunciation difference between an s and a z was too subtle for me to pin down.
Do they pronounce their name “Mears” or “Mearz”? I wouldn’t be surprised if different families pronounce it different ways, so having a spelling rule based on pronunciation would be a problem. For that reason, I’m especially glad I can tell you that just adding -es is the best choice. Call yourself the Mearses.