The Naked Writer

Capitals Have Their Rules

I had a student once who capitalized every noun, common or proper. I was taken aback. Why, oh, why? That was what the nuns had taught her—and in another country. But still I see a lot of unnecessary capitalization. Capitals make people feel important. So we capitalize our Board and our Mothers and the breed names of our Pets, the names of our Trees and our Job Roles.

Please don’t.

He is the chief of police. That is, Chief of Police John H. Smith.

We capitalize job titles only when they’re used as part of a name. You can ask the president of the United States if that is so. I mean President Obama. Or should I guess here who will be the next president?

If your company has a board of directors, or a membership committee, you really should just use the plain, unadorned words.

If your mother did something nice for you, that’s great. You can say, “Oh, Mother, thank you. That was so nice. Not many mothers would do something like that.”

While the American Kennel Club would want you to brag about your Schnauzer, you can insist on bragging about your schnauzer. On the other hand if you have a French poodle, well, ooh la la—or a Labrador retriever—everyone likes those dogs.

And as for the elm tree in your back yard or the woodpecker in the oak, let’s leave them without any extra bragging rights.

Capitalization has many more rules, but since my friend wrote me about the pope, calling him the Pope, I thought I’d start here. Yes, Pope Francis—he seems like a nice guy. I doubt if he’d want a capital when he didn’t deserve one.


Oh, excuse me. Of course I capitalize the Blue Wind in Question Woman & Howling Sky—and his brothers: .

The Naked Writer