Happy Birthday -COMMA- Henry

direct address comma cake
Update: I’m still tracking down the original image, but this error seems to be an epidemic in the cake-making industry. Another recent birthday celebration I attended had a similar issue. The birthday girl allowed me to punctuate her cake — in red frosting, even!

On Saturday, I spent time with my family watching the new Narnia film and going to a Pirate-themed restaurant where my father kept trying to talk in Pirate lingo.  We also had a special guest: Henry, a family friend, who happened to be celebrating his birthday.

In addition to my family taking Henry along on this day out, my little sister baked him a cake.  I loved her creation; it featured a giraffe and several animal toys (Henry recently returned from Africa), and candy letters that spelled out Happy Birthday Henry.

The problem is, it was spelled just like that.  No comma.  No comma!  My smart kid sister, my university professor parents, and Henry were all gathered around the mispunctuated cake.  I just had to bring up the problem before we sang Happy Birthday.

It’s a direct address.  You’re not using “happy birthday” to describe “Henry” (“Look at that Henry!  He seems like a happy birthday Henry to me.  What a fellow!”).  You’re saying Henry to clarify who you’re addressing.  The comma is more than a little necessary.

So, yes, it’s true.  I stopped the entire family as they were about to sing and forced them to break the dangling bottom of the “6” from the pack of candy characters, situate it as a comma, and (of course) take a picture prior to starting the real celebrations.