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This past weekend, I visited a Wal-Mart in Tappahannock, Va. Or maybe I went to a Walmart. Signage inside and outside the store spelled the chain’s name all closed up, with the “m” lowercased. But many of the products I looked at also stated they were distributed by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. This is the kind of thing that drives copy editors coconuts!

So I called Wal-Mart/Walmart this morning. All the media relations people were in a meeting, which if you work for a small newspaper is more or less where they will always be when you call.

The person I spoke to, who I cannot quote by name because this individual is not an official media relations person, told me that the store should be referred to as “Walmart” in stories.

“The store is one word,” this person told me. I asked about the company’s Web site, which on many pages refers to “Wal-Mart” in the title bar but “Walmart” below the buttons. “It’s all moving to one word, but for legal purposes it’s two words,” the person who is not an official spokesperson told me. I asked if the company had issued a press release on this matter, and the nonofficial spokesperson assured me they had. Three hours ago, that person told me an official press spokesperson would call me back, which I expect to happen sometime in 2011, or maybe after this post goes up.

Here is what I found on Wal-Mart/Walmart’s page of press releases: 28 instances where the stores or the corporation are referred to as “Wal-Mart.” Eighty references to “Walmart.” (I didn’t count walmart.com.)

If this is a rebranding, it seems uncharacteristically inept for a chain of this size. AP style on the mega-chain is Wal-Mart, which unlike the store’s logo, has not changed (see below). Until Wal-Mart applies a little internal consistency, I don’t see any reason to break it. Wal-Mart: I would love to hear from you: 202-332-2100 x.249/abeaujon@washcp.com.

UPDATE, 12:37 P.M.: Mark Allen, who knows more about AP style than anyone on this planet, Twitters me: “@abeaujon Great blog. AP updated this online last month: ‘Wal-Mart Stores Inc. [for the] company … . Use Walmart [for the] stores.'”

UPDATE, 2:49 P.M.:
E.R. Anderson, the regional media director for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., writes me to say:

Walmart’s U.S. locations have update store logos as part of an ongoing evolution of its brand – you may have seen this in store signage and recent print advertisements and TV commercials.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is the legal trade name of the corporation. The name “Walmart,” expressed as one word and without punctuation, is a trademark of the company and is used analogously to describe the company and its stores. Use the trade name when it is necessary to identify the legal entity, such as when reporting financial results, litigation or corporate governance.

I look at it that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc is our legal name and Walmart is our nickname. Elizabeth is my given name but everyone calls me E.R. Does that make sense?

Yes, it makes sense, but I think this is a problem, copy-wise, as is the AP’s new rule. I think it’s gonna make copy look sloppy; e.g., when a band like Kiss does a deal with Wal-Mart to sell its new album exclusively in Walmart. I say: Until the evolution is complete, keep the hypen!