Question: “Greetings! I always enjoy your column and now I have my own grammar question for you. The Carmel Farmers’ Market staff has been having a lively discussion about the correct punctuation for the Market. Is it the Farmers’ Market or just the Farmers Market? Is the apostrophe necessary? Thanks!” – (Jennifer Hershberger, Carmel)
Answer: Thanks for the kind words, Jennifer. Flattery will get you everywhere, as they say. It’ll certainly get you an attempt to answer from me.
This sort of question is an editor’s nightmare, because everyone thinks it should be spelled differently (as you’ve no doubt discovered). I did a quick search around the web and found dozens of farmers markets. Some included an apostrophe in their name – some didn’t. One of them had two apostrophes … but that’s another issue entirely.
From my perspective you have three options: farmer’s market, farmers’ market and farmers market. Unless a single farmer owns the market, I think we can rule out the first option. That leaves us with the question of whether “farmers” is intended to indicate possession or to act as a descriptor.
The Associated Press Style Book suggests the latter: using the plural noun as a descriptor; no apostrophe. Examples include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, boys basketball team, Beatles song, etc. AP Style is also to use “men’s basketball team,” though, so there are some discrepancies.
I like AP’s reasoning, but when it comes to organizations’ names, the rule is to go with what they call themselves. So the question for you is: Do the farmers own the market? If it’s a co-op sort of situation, then I think it would be appropriate to call it the Carmel Farmers’ Market if you so choose. My vote, for the little that it’s worth, would be for Carmel Farmers Market. To me, it’s intended as a descriptor – and the absence of the apostrophe will make the name look cleaner on signs and online.