Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Should words derived from proper nouns be capitalized or not? e.g. "Romanize/romanize", "Boolean/boolean" (I have seen both forms in the corpora and dictionaries).

Personally I think the derived words are not proper (they refer to a concept rather than a person) and should not be capitalized.

share|improve this question
3  
In the first instance, words – adjectives, at least – derived directly from proper nouns are capitalised (eg English; Edwardian; Parisian). Over time, such words may become genericised, especially when Boole say has been dead for some time. There's often a choice, but it's best to check in a dictionary or two. –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 29 at 12:57
    
If only other languages agreed but the rules differ from English to French to German etc. For example, in French the word français means different things according to whether it is capitalized or not. Un Français ne parle pas forcément le français means a Frenchman doesn't necessarily speak French. –  KCH Apr 29 at 13:53
    
@KCH Whereas in Spanish, the lowercase version (like español, francés, alemán, etc.) serves for both language and person. You only capitalize it in titles or organizations, like in the Real Academia Española, where you necessarily also capitalize other words. “La Real Academia Española (RAE) es una institución cultural con sede en Madrid. Junto con otras veintiuna academias correspondientes a sendos países donde se habla español, conforman la Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española.” –  tchrist Apr 29 at 14:04
    
@tchrist French is particularly maddening when it comes to capitalization, for example the name of the country La République française small 'f'! But when adjectives precede the noun they get capitalized! –  KCH Apr 29 at 14:29
    
@EdwinAshworth But time is no guarantee of a vanishing majuscule; the diesel engine and the teddy bear postdate Machiavellian schemes and Gordian knots by centuries. –  choster Apr 29 at 15:37

4 Answers 4

Etymology is not a determiner of whether something gets capitalized or not. Many proper nouns are derived from non-proper nouns (e.g. Apple, Smith, United Kingdom, World Wide Web), and vice versa (e.g. atlas, echo, narcissist, siren, sodomy). It is usage and usage alone that determines whether something gets capitalized or not.

This is decided for each and every word individually. And it is decided not by a committee in a single sitting on a given date, but by millions of people all over the world over the course of decades or even centuries.

As a result, there is no general pattern. The Roman Empire had nothing whatsoever to do with George Boole, after all. However, there can be a clear pattern for words of the same group, for obvious reasons. For example, the days of the week, the months, and the names of languages are always capitalized regardless of whether or not they were derived from proper or common nouns. Conversely, genericized trademarks (aspirin, bandaid, coke, escalator, kleenex, thermos, zipper) are no longer capitalized, even though they were specifically invented to be capitalized at all times ever.

Lastly, while capitalized nouns and adjectives are quite common in English, it simply does not like to capitalize verbs anywhere as much. So it is safe to say that even if we collectively try really hard to Google for Photoshopped cats in order to LOL, we will eventually end up googling for photoshopped cats and lolling.

See also: Should the word "Boolean" be capitalized?

share|improve this answer
    
I think parallel usage with non-eponymous terms is a major factor in capitalization; skating jumps are comparatively recent inventions, but it would be somewhat awkward to mix upper and lowercase when discussing e.g. a combination triple Lutz and double flip. If Gordian knots were frequently tied in combination with e.g. square knots, they'd probably be lowercase as well, but since they're something very different, it makes sense for their orthography to be different as well. –  supercat Apr 29 at 16:32
    
Note that some of those "genericized trademarks" are still in force as legal trademarks. Band-Aid, Fibreglas, and Styrofoam are famous examples, and should be capitalized (and ownership acknowledged) even if common usage is as a generic. At least, that should preclude any annoying letters from their owners' legal departments. Aspirin is specifically in the public domain, as it was seized as enemy property from a German company (Bayer) during WWI. –  Phil Perry Apr 29 at 18:26

Your examples are of two different types. Boolean is named after George Boole, a specific person. Therefore Boolean should be capitalized.

In common usage, Romanize, frequently appears in lower case. I don't know if "common usage" equates to "being correct"

share|improve this answer
    
The OED has romanize for the verb, with an initial lowercase, but its citations are often using the uppercase version. When one uses romanize to mean to convert some piece of writing into the Roman — that is, Latin — alphabet, we have a verb that comes from an adjective that comes from the name of the Eternal City herself. However, uppercase verbs like Africanize, Latinize, Italianize, and Hellenize also exist. Note that in typography, a roman face opposes an italic face, where both are written without an initial uppercase letter. Most people write of googling things in lc. –  tchrist Apr 29 at 13:46
    
@tchrist If YOU were to use Romanize in a sentence would you capitalize it?? –  Gary's Student Apr 29 at 13:51
    
I do find something I once wrote wherein I say “typically we now Romanize zeta to x in Greek words”, but there at least I chose to make the Greek and Roman scripts parallel in capitalization, and I could not downcase Greek. –  tchrist Apr 29 at 13:55
    
I'd note that draconian laws, chauvinist views, silhouetted forms, and lesbian lovers are both eponymous and uncapitalized, so I think your statement is somewhat oversimplifying matters. –  choster Apr 29 at 15:42
1  
@Gary'sStudent With virtually any rule of any living language, the exceptions take up five times as much space as the rule itself— consider how many threads we've had on articles with proper nouns. I would venture that the more the average person associates an eponym with its namesake, the more likely it is to remain capitalized. For instance, Don Juan and Syphilis were popularized in English as characters in poems. But the latter association is largely forgotten, and so it is that Don Juans (and [C/c]asanovas and [L/l]otharios) catch syphilis, not Syphilis. –  choster Apr 29 at 16:39

The difference between Boolean and boolean becomes distinct in computer languages, such as Java. See http://stackoverflow.com/q/3728616/509840.

In Java, Boolean refers to an Object, which may be true, false, or null. In contrast, boolean refers to a primitive type, which may only be true or false.

I am guessing that the OP is deciding between Boolean and boolean in the context of mathematics or computers. Most of the mathematical references I'm seeing (Wikipedia, Wolfram) for Boolean logic or Boolean algebra capitalized the word.

share|improve this answer
    
The facts that OP (1) asks generally 'Should words derived from proper nouns be capitalized or not?' (2) includes 'Romanize / romanize as well as Boolean/boolean (3) posts on a general English language site argue against his delimiting to the maths / computer domain. This is a good comment, not an answer. –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 29 at 19:15

I think generally capitalizing would make it more specific and proper, however a lower-case would do as well.

Browsing around, lots of words like anglicize have alternate forms like Anglicize. However, words like Latinize are generally always uppercase, but romanize is generally lower-case.

I think a hard and fast rule would be always to capitalize to clarify to your audience that the words are derived from proper noun roots.

share|improve this answer
2  
I've never seen 'Galvanise'. –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 29 at 13:04
    
Could you please supply references for this position? –  tchrist Apr 29 at 13:37
1  
Neither have I seen "Boycott" capitalized, except in reference to the eponymous Captain Charles Boycott. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boycott –  rajah9 Apr 29 at 14:04
    
And "lynch" is generally lowercase as well. –  Peter Shor Apr 29 at 15:40
    
We measure electricity in volts and amperes (lower case), although their symbols are V and A (capitalized). Both Volta and Ampere were proper names of real people. –  Phil Perry Apr 29 at 18:29

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.