Dot Wordsworth

St Thomas’s

The rules on apostrophe use are clear — and the management’s explanations don’t help

St Thomas’s
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Everyone praised the staff of St Thomas’s Hospital during the terrorist attack. My husband of course brought his own fly to put in the ointment. ‘It’s disgraceful,’ he said. ‘They were told about it years ago.’

He was not referring to medical matters but to the spelling of the hospital’s name, attached to the building in letters taller than a man as St Thomas’ Hospital. I mentioned it here in 2008. Now a reader has written to the editor of The Spectator, saying that the jumbo-sized error remains on show. It is undoubtedly wrong. Why can’t people who run a big hospital grasp the simple rules for using apostrophes?

Oxford Dictionaries says helpfully: ‘With personal names that end in —s: add an apostrophe plus s when you would naturally pronounce an extra s if you said the word out loud.’ It gives the example: ‘Thomas’s brother was injured in the accident.’ Since everyone, including the hospital management, pronounces the word Thomas’s as three syllables, there is no room for doubt.

One justification the management has given is that the name refers to more than one St Thomas. That does not help. First the hospital was dedicated to St Thomas Becket. As at other institutions, the dedication was changed to St Thomas the Apostle after the royal proclamation of 16 November 1538 that ‘Thomas Becket shall not be esteemed, named, reputed and called a saint’. But even if it were dedicated to any number of people called St Thomas, the plural of Thomas is Thomases, so the possessive plural would be spelt Thomases’.

The 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary gleans 16 quotations from the hospital’s papers, Reports and Gazette, all in the name of St Thomas’s. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography contains 409 lives connected with St Thomas’s, from Arthur Askey to Dick Whittington, who gave money for a refuge for unmarried mothers there. Florence Nightingale begged that when she could work no more: ‘I should wish to be taken to St Thomas’s Hospital and to be placed in a general ward.’ They’d all be surprised by the obstinacy of the hospital in persisting with the wrong spelling.