If you don’t think a little ol’ apostrophe is worth worrying about, that’s probably because your name doesn’t contain one.

Two decades ago, Lisa Smith fell in love and turned into Lisa O’Rourke. She had no idea what she was in for.

The issues ranged from the whimsical — a Walmart cake decorator asking her how to spell “apostrophe” — to the serious — her younger son almost losing his chance to start classes on time at the University of Cincinnati.

After they married, Lisa and her husband lived in England and Ireland, where both of their sons were born. When they decided to move back to Akron in 1993, they went to the local Social Security office to register her husband and sons and put a new name on her card.

“For reasons unbeknownst to me,” she writes, “the worker registered my older son and me with the apostrophe and my younger son and my husband without.”


Liam O’Rourke participated in the engineering program at Firestone High School and interned at the University of Akron. He became aware of some attractive grant and scholarship possibilities for UA’s engineering program, and decided to apply.

But to qualify, he needed to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and confusion over the apostrophe prohibited UA from accessing the application before the deadline.

The apostrophe became an even bigger deal in July 2011, when Liam was standing in the registrar’s office at the University of Cincinnati and discovered he didn’t exist.

The family scrambled to correct his Social Security card, and shortly before the start of fall semester, he was able to schedule his classes.

Beyond these issues, many folks with Irish and Italian roots consider apostrophes much more than just a clerical issue.

“The O’ and Mac and Mc are points of national pride and have to do with family relationships,” O’Rourke says. “The O’ means that you are kin to chieftains in old Ireland and is a point of pride that few would relinquish.”

Pesky punctuation

Unlike apostrophes, IRS and state tax computers have no trouble processing hyphens. But if a hyphen exists within your first name, you’ve got your own headaches.

Just ask Donna-Marie D. Smith.

The Akron woman says she ran into problems while voting last year because her hyphen is not included in the driver’s license database at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. She says she also has been prohibited from using her hyphen at banks.

“It’s been my battle for years,” she says. “My birth certificate has the hyphen, but I guess that doesn’t matter.”

Skool dazed

If you frequently use Google maps, you know they contain more than just maps. Users also are encouraged to editorialize.

For instance, if you’re searching for North High School in Akron, you can not only get directions but enjoy this review by “Adam,” posted in October 2009.

His rating for North: “Terrible.”

Here is his detailed assessment, verbatim:

“See i attend north high school and there are very few good teacher they have excellent art and computer classes but otherwise last year i had a teacher attempt to get me arrested but thanks to evidence she couldn’t which was the most stupid reasons but cannot disclose the academics are absolutly terrible never been in a worse school other than maybe Kenmore.”

Well, in a way, he does mount a compelling argument.

Time travel

When is 24 hours actually 20.5 hours? Only when you work at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Toward the end of a news release about BMV offices closing for a couple of days for a computer upgrade was this sentence:

“Customers are reminded that they may renew vehicle registrations or purchase license plates online 24 hours a day, seven days a week at www.oplates.com or by calling 1-866-675-2837.”

On that website is this message:

“The OPLATES system will be unavailable every Sunday from 11:30 p.m. until Monday at 3:00 a.m. while we perform weekly maintenance. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your patience.”

Granted, few Ohio drivers are dying to go online during that particular time frame. But is it too much to expect the BMV to know its own hours?

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com.