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I'm a moderator at another StackExchange site and a debate has come up about the usage of the trademarked name for which I site is about, i.e. WordPress. Note as a trademark it is spelled in CamelCase and thus we wanted our guidelines to be that you render it in CamelCase or we'll probably edit it so that it will be consistent (we don't expect that people will all notice this nor are we trying to get people to obey, we just want to let them know that we'd prefer they do it this way and if they don't we'll probably edit it for them as we are writing our answers.)

Of course there is always at least one person who takes issue when a group tries to create order partly in this case because of a dust-up created by the founder of WordPress who recently added a function to WordPress to CamelCase the name in content on people's sites and has dismissed the outcry about it from a group of passionate people as not his concern. Ignoring whether he should or should not have done that (I see these two issues as orthogonal) my view is that for our site if WordPress is cased as WordPress by its founder it makes our site appear more of an authority if we are generally consistent in that usage. But this one individual wants to debate that and part of his argument is as follows:

Spoken professionally, names should be written orthographically correct. Correct me if I'm wrong, but to my best knowledge in English (both BE and AE), this means with an uppercase first letter per each word -the rest lowercase.

I'm aware that companies can get very "creative" to break the "burdening" constraints of language for their own and their products names. But to make everything well read- and understandable, authors should first aim for an orthographically correct writing instead of fulfilling the marketing needs of a specific company.

So I'd like to know if it would be considered more proper in written English and why to use casing such as Mcdonalds, Powerpoint, Thinkpad, Jpmorgan, Ebay, L'oreal, Conocophillips, Unitedhealth, Wellpoint, Pepsico, and Fedex OR the casing that follows their trademarks; i.e. McDonalds, PowerPoint, ThinkPad, JPMorgan, eBay, L'Oreal, ConocoPhillips, UnitedHealth, WellPoint, PepsiCo, and FedEx and relatedly would be be easier to read/more understandable? Note his last statement seems to imply he is really just trying to use this his statement on the "proper" way to do it in English (which is ironic as he's a non-native speaker) in order to justify his apparent desire to be "anti-marketing."

So I am coming here hoping for support that CamelCase for trademarks is the correct form in English usage but will be open minded in hearing your opinions and might even change my mind as I often do when presented with better evidence.

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Someone down-voted this question but didn't leave an explanation as to why. Could you please return and do me the courtesy of explaining why? – MikeSchinkel Sep 12 '10 at 0:45
Vote to close as "not a real question". This seems to be a rhetorical question with an answer the questioner wants to get rather than an actual query. – delete Sep 12 '10 at 0:49
@Shinto Sherlock: This is an honest question. I preferred to be transparent rather than hide what I hoped the answer would be. But I was open to having my opinion changed if my position was wrong. Did you not read where I said "but will be open minded in hearing your opinions and might even change my mind as I often do when presented with better evidence?" Are you not ready to take me at my word until I prove otherwise? Or are you retaliating because I didn't like your answer here (which I did not even down-vote)? english.stackexchange.com/questions/2909/#2910 – MikeSchinkel Sep 12 '10 at 1:25
I think rather than spellings like Mcdonalds Powerpoint, Thinkpad, etc. as being correct, probably the disputant would allow “McDonalds” and “L’Oreal” (due to tradition) and perhaps prefer “Power Point”, “J. P. Morgan”, “E Bay”, “Conoco Phillips”, “United Health”, “Well Point” (or “Wellpoint”), “Think Pad”, “Pepsi Co” (or “Pepsico”), “Fed Ex”, etc. I don’t think those are so ridiculously wrong, do you? – nohat Sep 13 '10 at 0:08
Erg... do you really think "E Bay" looks okay? I don't know what qualifies as "ridiculously wrong", but if I saw the word written this way on a blog or website, I would assume it is not very professional or well-edited. I would feel this way to a lesser extent with "Power Point" and "Think Pad". – Kosmonaut Sep 13 '10 at 1:07
up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are so many exceptions. Names don't always get caps all the way through, e.g. "Osama bin Laden", "Giancarlo di Donato", "Martin van Buren". "L'Hôpital's rule". We respect the capitalization of people's names based on the way that they write them, so how is this any different?

Furthermore, on whose authority does he consider this rule orthographically "correct"? All newspapers write brand names like iPhone and not Iphone. Is it really easier to read words if I see them written one way in every professional publication, commercial, and product labeling, and then another way when a random website writes about it?

Clearly, someone is just annoyed at the ways that companies capitalize things nowadays. Sure, it wasn't popular in the past, but in the past we basically didn't have acronyms either (for example). There are always new innovations taking place in language and orthography. So, there is no basis in this being objectively "correct", nor does popular usage dictate that this person's rule is reflective of actual usage.

share|improve this answer
Hi @Kosmonaut: Thanks for the great answer! – MikeSchinkel Sep 12 '10 at 0:12
The comparison of modern trademark names to traditional capitalization of family names is not at all germane to the question. The former is an example of breaking the rules to get attention (@nohat gives the best explanation elsewhere). The latter is as much a part of historical tradition as any other grammar rule. "Mac," "bin," "van," etc., are prepositions meaning, variously, "of," "from," "son of," etc., and they have been cased as they are for centuries. Writing "Mcdonalds" would be flaunting, not a respect for tradition, but ignorance. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_name – Doug Sep 13 '10 at 15:24
@Doug: Yes, they are prepositions, but the capitalization of these prepositions is done based on the way that the person's family has chosen to capitalize them. For example, in just a Google search for "di Donato", we find that some people write "di Donato", some write "Di Donato" and some write "DiDonato". The name "LaFours" comes from the definite article "la", and yet a Google search shows "LaFours", "La Fours" and "Lafours". Notice that these names even get rid of the spacing. There are many, many examples like this. – Kosmonaut Sep 13 '10 at 16:21
Furthermore, "bin" ("son") is not a preposition, it is a noun. The genitive case (which gives the sense of "of") is not explicitly written as a word in this construct. And, in the Arabic writing system, there is no capital/lowercase distinction. So, you are lumping this in with other words that are not the same thing. – Kosmonaut Sep 13 '10 at 16:25
@Kosmonaut, Thanks for the clarification on "bin." I was aware of the difference (and would still lump it in with the rest, as the preposition "of" is implied when transliterating into English), but I was not aware of the lack of capitals/lowercase. I stand by my point, though, that "McDonald's" is the only correct capitalization of both the restaurant chain and the Scottish surname, and that this has little to with the modern creative naming of companies such as JPMorgan Chase (which oddly enough has an office in the JP MorganChase building in San Francisco). – Doug Sep 13 '10 at 18:52

There are a number of innovations in capitalization and punctuation invented by trademark owners for use in proper nouns, including:

  1. Eliminating the space between words, resulting in internal capital letters that correspond to word boundaries (“WordPress”, “ValuJet”)
  2. When the first word is a single letter, lowercasing it but capitalizing the second letter, corresponding to the first letter in the second word (“iPod, eBay”)
  3. Using capital and lowercase letters in arbitrary combinations (“deviantART”, “Mitsubishi i MiEV”)
  4. Not capitalizing initial letters (“first direct”, “craigslist”)
  5. Using all capital letters for non-acronyms (“LEGO”, “BEER-NUTS”)
  6. Using nonstandard punctuation marks (“Macy*s”, “M•A•C”)
  7. Using sentence termination punctuation marks in a name (“Yahoo!”, “Guess?”)

And even crazier things, like specifying that a name must always appear in a certain typeface, type weight, or color. The point of all these unusual treatments is to make the trademarks stand out; that is, to draw attention to the unusualness of the trademark in order to make it more memorable.

However, from the standpoint of the conventions of standard written English, all of these things violate the conventions, and there is no reason why you, as a writer, cannot simply adhere to the conventions. Trademarks are words and there are rules about how to use capital letters, lowercase letters, and punctuation when writing words:

  • The first word of a sentence always has an initial capital letter, whether or not it would be capitalized elsewhere in the sentence.
  • Proper nouns, which trademarks are a subcategory of, have a capital initial letter in each word which is part of the proper noun.
  • The only punctuation marks that can appear as part of a word is the apostrophe (’) and the hyphen (–). All other punctuation is for connecting words, phrases, and sentences together.

From the perspective of correctness in writing, there is nothing wrong with adhering to these conventions strictly and reformatting all trademarks to make them compliant: Word Press (or Wordpress), Deviant Art, I Pod (or I-Pod), Macy’s, Yahoo, Lego, etc. If you are someone who is deciding on formatting standards for writing, this a perfectly reasonable and unimpeachably correct paradigm to establish. However, if you look at how professionally-edited publications are handling these kinds of cases nowadays, you will find yourself in a distinct minority if you take as hard-line an approach as that.

Instead, most publications have compromised, and are allowing some innovative treatments that are not too distracting: the first two kinds of innovations, internal capitals at (former) word boundaries (as in “ValuJet”), and a single lowercase initial followed by a capital letter (as in “iPod”). The justification is that these are close enough to the normal rules, with a capital letter at (or near) the beginning, and not too many other capital letters, that they can be tolerated, although most probably insist that things like “iPod” can never appear at the beginning of a sentence, or if they must, then they are capitalized: “IPod”.

As for the other innovations, they have generally been ruled too unusual to be kept in respectable published prose. It would seem like too much bending over backwards to please the trademark owner and not enough caring about not being confusing or misleading to their readers. In my opinion, writing should be composed for the benefit of the reader, not for the benefit of the capitalization whims of the person who invented the thing you’re writing about.

As a side note, were I to participate in the argument the original poster mentioned, I would insist that if you are going to use the strict traditional conventions, then WordPress should be rendered as Word Press, because you have eliminated a space from the phrase Word Press, not added a capital letter to the nonexistent word Wordpress.

share|improve this answer
Regarding your last paragraph, I am not sure you can claim that the creators of WordPress are treating their name as two words with novel spacing without giving equal weight to the possibility that they have created a new compound word for their name, i.e. "Wordpress", and then given it novel capitalization. There are other companies, like "Bridgestone", that have done this in an unambiguous way. – Kosmonaut Sep 13 '10 at 1:18
@Kosmonaut I’m just saying what I would insist on in such an argument, were I to participate in one. ;-) – nohat Sep 13 '10 at 4:25
Theoretically speaking, if such an argument were to happen, which it clearly did not :) – Kosmonaut Sep 13 '10 at 13:45
+1 for the point about obnoxious changes to the rules. I have no problem with WordPress but I almost always write "Lego" (and I'm a big Lego fan) and not "LEGO", even though LEGO insists on "LEGO". All-caps is SHOUTING. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Sep 13 '10 at 17:48

Some names, including many names starting with Mc- or O'-, should have more than one capital letter in them (such as McDonald or O'Donnell). It would be wrong to write Mcdonald, or O'donnell. Essentially, I think that the person whose name it is gets to decide how it should be spelled or capitalized.

I assume that this principle would carry over to other proper nouns, including names of companies or products.

share|improve this answer
Thanks! "the person whose name it is gets to decide how it should be spelled or capitalized" is definitely consistent with my thoughts on the matter. – MikeSchinkel Sep 11 '10 at 22:56
Agreed. Would this also extend, I wonder, to companies like first direct, which always prints its name in (a) lower case, and (b) bold type? – Steve Melnikoff Sep 11 '10 at 23:03
@Steve Meinikoff: Great follow on question! – MikeSchinkel Sep 11 '10 at 23:28
A newspaper or magazine might reserve bold type, small caps, italics, etc. for specific functions (like titles, information on what page to turn to, etc.). In a medium like email, such special formatting might not be available at all. An all-lowercase name might be the big exception to respecting the wishes of the company — because it might very well be unclear to the reader that the proper noun is intended. So, publications may have rules against formatting like "first direct", while CamelCaps would not cause the same confusion. The exact details probably vary from place to place. – Kosmonaut Sep 12 '10 at 3:50
I would say, rather, that the person who is writing or publishing something gets to decide how the writing is spelled or capitalized. – nohat Sep 12 '10 at 23:39

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