Capitalisation and purposefully lower-case names.
February 8, 2004 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Two language questions, both about capitalisation. MI.

1) Quite a few proper names these days are spelt entirely and conciously in lower case - when these begin a sentence should the normally lower case first letter be capitalised or should it remain lower case?

I've changed my mind about the second one, as I couldn't phrase it to my liking.
posted by biffa to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
In formal or professional form, such as in printed matter, it should be capitalized. In informal or nonprofessional form, it is up to the keyer.

To avoid the issue altogether, however, it is best just to do a rewrite so that the name in question does not begin a sentence.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:32 AM on February 8, 2004

posted by Space Coyote at 10:38 AM on February 8, 2004

The New York Times style guide should have something definitive to say about it. I would agree with Mo Nickels that the name should not begin a sentence. Otherwise you'd get something like this:
E.e. cummings was one of the 20th century's most well-known poets.
And that looks kind of weird. I'm sure stylistically it would not fly in a publication.
posted by PrinceValium at 10:48 AM on February 8, 2004

The Chicago Manual of Style says, "If unconventional spelling is the strong preference of the bearer of the name, it should be respected in appropriate contexts." Also, ". . . a lowercased name should not begin a sentence."
posted by funkbrain at 10:57 AM on February 8, 2004

I'd go with the CMS, except that I'd modify "appropriate contexts" to "all contexts." If someone cannot even choose what they are to be called, they can't really be said to have much else in the way of freedom.

That said, I think names like "e.e. cummings" and "bell hooks" are precious and twee.

Yours truly,
posted by adamgreenfield at 11:42 AM on February 8, 2004

How about a name with an InterCap, such as BarbaraNeely?
posted by Vidiot at 2:01 PM on February 8, 2004

mischief says, 'do what you will'.
posted by mischief at 3:01 PM on February 8, 2004

I've been a technical writer at a few software companies that have used the hip lowercase initial letters for their name (eWhatever, iStuff, etc.) Naturally, the documentation departments have debated this question ad nauseum.

The solution that we've come to in almost every instance has been simply to write around it. Rephrase the sentence such that the name isn't the first word.

Whether this works for you depends entirely upon your individual situation, but from a tech writer's viewpoint, that was the most logical way to dodge the ambiguity of starting with a lowercase letter and the trademark issues of spelling the product or company name in varying cases.
posted by oissubke at 6:44 PM on February 8, 2004

That said, I think names like "e.e. cummings" and "bell hooks" are precious and twee.

As do most people.

As we know, bell hooks does prefer her name treated that way, but (as most of us do not know) E. E. Cummings did not.

Snopes oughta have an entry on this, fer chrissake.
posted by soyjoy at 8:16 PM on February 8, 2004

Why on earth is the recommended behavior for non-standard capitalization to re-jigger your language to accommodate? Call me old fashioned, but I'd always put good rhetoric first. Just start the sentence without the capitalization.
posted by mkultra at 7:04 AM on February 9, 2004

Blue Stone says, "have some balls and do what you want to, rather than sticking to other people's conventions, and let them get flustered and bothered by your failure to conform/toe the line/behave respectably (but do no harm.)"
posted by Blue Stone at 11:29 AM on February 9, 2004

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