Should King’s Cross Have An Apostrophe?

King’s Cross, or Kings Cross? Let’s take a look at the evidence…

Wikipedia contradicts itself right from the start. Kings in the title, King’s in the first line…and then a mixture throughout. Useless.

The Wikipedia discussion area appears to shed more light. “There is no apostrophe in Kings Cross,” asserts the very first line. Unfortunately, the supporting reference doesn’t load, and most of the subsequent commentary dates from 2002. Balls.

One fact we can rely upon: the mainline station and the underground station both adopt the apostrophe in all official signage (here, for example). But this has only been the case since 1951, before which the station was simply Kings Cross.

So which is it?

Meanwhile, the current A-Z resolutely applies an apostrophe to the area, King’s Cross Road and the station, while our battered 1975 copy of the Nicholson Street Finder leaves the punctuation out. Google Maps hedges its bets by offering the two alternatives simultaneously.

Examples of both appellations are also readily found on Camden Council’s website, with search results favouring without (2270 instances) to with (1250) – although we can’t be sure how sensitive their search engine is to punctuation. The preference is echoed at City Hall, with 373 search results including an apostrophe, and 519 leaving it out.

Meanwhile, the King’s Cross Central site – the web home for the major redevelopment of the King’s Cross rail lands – emphatically sports a crimson apostrophe in contrast to its otherwise black lettering. Their new road, King’s Boulevard, reaffirms this dedication to the mark. Party-pooping Kings Place demurs from the sidelines.

The simple truth is that there is no ‘official’ stance on the name. Or, if there is, no one pays any attention. While apostrophes are often crucial in written language, they are less important to place names. No one reads ‘Kings Cross’ and assumes that multiple monarchs must be crossing the street. It’s a label and nothing more. If you need a rule, try using an apostrophe when talking about the stations and no apostrophe when describing the area. It makes no sense, but that’s often the case with rules.

In fact, the only way we can definitively answer our titular question is to apply it to the popular patisserie chain Apostrophe, in which case, the answer is ‘yes’ – they do excellent sandwiches and deserve a shop closer to the station than the branch at the Brunswick Centre.

We could expand this piece to discuss the situation elsewhere in London – just taking Tube stations, we have Earl’s Court, Queen’s Park, Regent’s Park, Shepherd’s Bush, St John’s Wood, St Paul’s, and the slightly different case of St James’s Park. All offer similar scope for scrutiny. Indeed, most have toyed with apostrophe-free periods, as this article details (PDF). But we’ll leave it there for now, and open out discussion in the comments below.

See also:

Tags: , , , ,


Article by Matt Brown | 4,931 Articles | View Profile | Twitter

  • The Masked Apostrophe

    I suppose the question i’s, what do the oldest map’s say? Second question would be, do we care what the oldest map’s say? We can change name’s if we want. King’s Cross Central seem to have decided and no doubt they’ll have a huge amount of influence in how people see the area – and TfL of cour’se. So as some con’sitency would be nice, I’d say I’m po’sitively pro-apo’strophy.

  • Mark Howells-Mead

    There’s a fairly simple answer to this. The reason it’s called King’s Cross is because it is the junction point of two roads on which a statue of King George IV (singular) was built. Therefore it is “the cross of the King” and hence, King’s Cross. Kings Cross and Kings’ Cross would indicate multitude of Kings, which while feasible, isn’t the case here. I would hesitantly suggest that those responsible for signwriting and place naming double-check their facts before emphatically arguing a false standpoint. :)

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, everyone knows the history. But Kings Cross (no apostrophe) has the advantage of being simpler and cleaner and, as argued in the main article, there’s no practical need for an apostrophe because Kings Cross now serves only as a label for an area/station rather than a description.

      • Mark Howells-Mead

        True, there are thousands of places all over the world whose names have been shortened or modified through misunderstanding or laziness. It’s a shame, because names often bear testament to the history of a place and that is often also lost, when the name is adapted.

  • Rich

    Of course it should have an apostrophe; the name is shortened from “[The] King [i]s Cross”.

    • Dave H

      I was thinking the exact same thing. The King is presumably even more irate as a result of all this punctuation uncertainty.

  • matstace

    Or we could get rid of the argument about the apostrophe, and revert the name of the area to Battlebridge 😉

    • Anonymous

      But should it be Battlebridge or Battle Bridge? 😉

  • IanVisits

    Newspapers from just after it opened used both variants.

    However, they all had a hyphen between the two words, so you should really be arguing about Kings-Cross vs King’s-Cross as the name 😉

  • Giuseppegazerro

    of course.
    it meansTthe Cross Of The King, so it’sa saxon Genitive, singular case.
    Were it The Cross Of The KingS, it might be without an apostrophe.
    But it’s not.

    • Anonymous

      It doesn’t ‘mean’ anything. It’s just a label for the area, not a description. Yes, it has its origins in a monument to a single king, so King’s Cross is certainly appropriate. But the apostrophe serves no practical purpose, as argued in the article. There’s definitely a case for omitting it for the sake of tidiness and simplicity. No one still writes Golder’s Green

    • Anonymous

      It doesn’t ‘mean’ anything. It’s just a label for the area, not a description. Yes, it has its origins in a monument to a single king, so King’s Cross is certainly appropriate. But the apostrophe serves no practical purpose, as argued in the article. There’s definitely a case for omitting it for the sake of tidiness and simplicity. No one still writes Golder’s Green

  • Joe Dunckley

    Kings wouldn’t dare cross there, given the state of the traffic [Londonist, passim]. (D’ya see what I did there? D’ya? Yeah, look at TfL wither under my satire.)

    Ordnance Survey use an apostrophe, and I was always taught that Ordnance Survey have the last word on place names.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, very good Joe.
      Good call with OS. Would be interesting to know if they’ve been consistent with that over the decades.

  • Andrew

    The signs at the station may use an apostrophe, but the National Rail website doesn’t:

    • Anonymous

      Yes it does…scroll down to see an inconsistency.
      I think they leave it out of headings and timetables for ease of web searches, but they pop the apostrophe back in if it’s in a section of text.

  • Dave H

    This is a very important question that has vexed me for some time. Shame there seems to be no conclusive answer.

  • Alastair Rae

    Grauniad style guide has King’s Cross and College but Kings Road and Place.

  • Mark Walley

    Regent’s Park is the park of the Regent (George the eventually to be whatever) so historically it should be Regent’s Park. But who cares? NOT I.

  • Sarah Hayward

    I am a ward councillor for King’s Cross. And while I can’t necessarily provide you with categorical evidence, I can provide you with several pensioners who’ve lived in the area for many decades who get quite irate when the apostrophe is dropped. I believe it to be the cross of the king. And therefore posessive singular and a circumstance where an apostrophe is required.

  • Scout London

    Ah, this stuff keeps us awake at night. For example, we’ve always gone for Earls Court except for the station which is Earl’s Court. Nightmare. Interns go crazy. At Scout, we’ve been going for King’s Cross due to the new development – if they can push a new postcode through, we figure we’ll spell whatever way they want us to.

  • William Perrin

    ok – so Matt as you know i run we’ve written well over a thousand articles about kings cross in the past five years or so.  whilst we in no way have anything approaching a style guide we just don’t bother with an apostrophe.  one of the older references to kings cross is this piece from the illustrated london news in 1845:

    ‘What strange mutations does the hand of “public improvement” work in our metropolis. Less than a score of years have rolled away since a very anomalous pile was reared at the point where meet the New-road, Maiden-lane, Pentonville-hill, the Gray’s Inn-road, &c.; the spot receiving the somewhat grandiloquent name of “King’s Cross.”

    this pre-dates the station by a few years (the pile they refer to was the dreadful statue of the king at the cross roads roughly where the lighthouse building is now)earlier maps tend to label the spot battle bridge if at all.  like all property developers the great northern railway tried to add some social cachet to their utilitarian station by giving it a regal made up name, the statue having been long demolished.  in the same way that Regents Place and Regents Quarter have done more recently.

    as your correspondent above notes we no longer use the dashes that were prevalent in he mid C19th I don’t feel the need to use the apostrophe.BTW one of sarah haywards elderly constituents does on occasion write to me to berate me about my spelling and grammar.

    • HHGeek

      “BTW one of sarah haywards elderly constituents does on occasion write to me to berate me about my spelling and grammar.”

      I’m not surprised!

  • Steve Bowbrick

    This, in case it’s of any use, is from the Oxford Dictionary of London Place-Names. Confirms the possessive bit and uses apostrophes throughout:

    “King’s Cross   Camden. ‘The king’s crossroads’, district so called from a stone statue of King George IV (reigned 1820–30) which stood between 1830 and 1845 at the junction of Euston Road with Gray’s Inn Road and Pentonville Road. The name was transferred to the railway station (marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1876) when it was opened in 1852. The earlier name of the district was Battlebridge, see Battle Bridge Road.”

  • Jo Hannan

    Thank you all, it’s been great fun to read . Jo

  • James Melly

    I run another King’s Cross website, which is a guide/directory, rather than Will’s excellent community blog. I am normally something of an apostrophe pedant, but when it comes to proper nouns you soon realise that our ancestors seem to have been much less bothered about the whole thing (perhaps without the internet to debate it on endlessly) and were pretty inconsistent. And with search engines we have to acknowledge what’s popular as much as what’s correct, so I hedge my bets and use both versions.

  • Guest

    If it is named after the statue, where did the statue go?

  • Jim

    I’ve always wondered why Earl’s Court and Barons Court are different despite their proximity…

  • Steve Bowbrick

    I don’t know what happened to the statue but Weinreb and Hibbert’s London Encyclopaedia says, in its entry on King’s Cross (about two thirds of a column, with an apostrophe):

    “Designed by Stephen Geary, it had an octagonal base decorated with Doric columns and the four patron saints of Britain. At the top of the 60 ft-high monument was a statue of George IV. The base was first used as a police station and later as a public house. The whole structure provoked such unfavourable comment that the statue was taken down in 1842 and the rest rest three years later.”

  • Anonymous