by Iola Goulton
I have previously blogged about whether we should capitalize deity pronouns (it’s the publisher’s decision—see https://thechristianpen.com/dear-editor-should-writers-capitalize-deity-pronouns/) or whether we should capitalize nicknames (only if it’s unique—see https://thechristianpen.com/dear-editor-should-i-capitalize-nicknames/).
What else do we capitalize or not capitalize?
Brand names are capitalized to be consistent with the brand trademark. We therefore use standard capitalization for Samsung, but nonstandard for iPhone.
Most dictionaries only include basic Christian terms, which can leave Christian authors and editors scratching their heads when it comes to capitalizing terms referring to God. The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style includes a comprehensive section on capitalization of Christian terms. If you edit for Christian writers, The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style is a must-have.
Individual publishers will have their own style guide. If so, that will prevail. I once worked with a client who didn’t capitalize any term referring to the devil. He said it was because he didn’t want to give the devil any honor (although that’s not why we capitalize proper nouns). I have seen a niche Christian publisher with the same policy.
Humor or Emphasis
Capitals are occasionally used to indicate humor, irony, or for emphasis:
- The memory of The Ice Cream Incident sucked her confidence.
Racial or Ethnic Identity
Terms referring to racial or ethnic identity are usually capitalized. For example, my background is Welsh and English, and I’m a New Zealander (colloquially, a Kiwi). These are all capitalized: a kiwi (lowercase) is a brown flightless bird.
The exception to this rule has typically been when discussing color: style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style have historically advised writers to use lowercase for terms such as black, brown, and white (see CMOS 8.38).
However, Chicago (https://cmosshoptalk.com/2020/06/22/black-and-white-a-matter-of-capitalization/) and Associated Press (https://apnews.com/article/9105661462) now both state that black is lowercase when referring to a color, but capitalized when referring to a person or people group who identify as Black.
Note that writers should refer to Black people, not Blacks (which is considered derogatory).
Titles are capitalized when referred to in full. For example:
- Queen Elizabeth, but the queen (or the Queen in the Commonwealth).
- President Abraham Lincoln, but the president.
A title used alone may be capitalized when used in direct address. For example:
- Ladies and gentlemen, the President.
- Yes, Captain.
Other words are capitalized in line with dictionary usage.
If you’re an author who is planning to self-publish or an editor working with authors who plan to self-publish, then it will pay to keep a record of which terms are capitalized and why. This is commonly called a style sheet, and will include common editorial decisions such as:
- Spelling of names or uncommon words.
- Whether to use the Oxford comma (also called the serial comma or Harvard comma) (see https://thechristianpen.com/tag/oxford-comma/).
Iola Goulton of Christian Editing Services is a New Zealand-based freelance editor specializing in Christian fiction. Iola holds a degree in marketing and has been editing since 2012. She is a Gold member of The Christian PEN, and Romance Writers of New Zealand, and manages the Beyond the Borders zone of American Christian Fiction Writers. When she’s not working, Iola is usually reading, writing her next book review, or avoiding working on her first novel. Iola lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in New Zealand with her husband, son, and cat.