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When I was a youngster some mumble-mumble-mumble decades ago, I was taught that, in the instances of names of persons, places, and things which carried the definite article the, the article wasn’t capitalised. Hence, the Batman, the Empire State Building, the Medal of Honor.

In the last twenty years or so, I have seen the capitalisation of the in names proliferate. Now, it’s The Batman, The Empire State Building, The Medal of Honor. When I point this out as an error, I’m generally met with the argument, “No, those are names, and all words in a name are capitalised.”

Did I get it wrong, way back when? Or is it one of those things in which style has trumped rule, and now the standard is to capitalise the definite article in names?

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2 Answers 2

You only capitalize The when it is the first word in a title of book or a play (etc), because the The is included in that name:

  • We watched The Untouchables reruns all afternoon.
  • I haven’t read The Treason of Isengard yet.
  • My favorite film of his is The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

In contrast, the word the is not normally capitalized in front of proper nouns that aren’t titles, like the New York Metropolitan Opera, the Rockies, the Bronx, the Tender Loin, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Beatles, the Chicago Board of Trade, the Fourth of July holiday, the Mesozoic Era, the Lincoln Memorial, the Thames, the Orkneys, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United Kingdom, the Black Sea, the River Nile, the American President, the Berkshires, the United States of America, the Sierra Quemada, the Age of Enlightenment, the Battle of Hastings, the Old Pretender, the Maastrict Treaty, the European Union, and so on and so forth.

However, there are notable exceptions. For example:

As a compromise, Brussels and The Hague alternated as capital every two years, with the government remaining in The Hague. After the separation of Belgium in 1830, Amsterdam remained the capital of the Netherlands, while the government was situated in The Hague.

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Thank you all, but especially you, tchrist, for that's the way I recalled it. Can you, or anyone else, offer any reason as to why the trend now seems to be to capitalise the definite article in front of proper nouns? –  Commander Benson Sep 30 '12 at 23:03
    
Oh, I see it all too much in some printed publications, but more often in even the more formal websites. (I don't do texting, so I wouldn't know about that.) So I'm guessing it comes down to whatever stylebook the source materials use. The argument, as I get it when I make comment, is that the "the" is part of the name and therefore, because a name is a proper noun, the "the" is capitalised. My response to that is precisely as you stated it above. Much obliged for your time, all. –  Commander Benson Sep 30 '12 at 23:38
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@CommanderBenson I suspect that it's in part due to the (very annyoying) trend among marketing/advertising folks to inflate their 'brands' by prefixing a capitalized 'The', as if to say "We're not just the Acme Co., not any common-or-garden-variety Acme Co., we're The Acme Company." –  StoneyB Sep 30 '12 at 23:40
    
And then there's The Ohio State University, although that's not new. From Wikipedia: Also in 1878, in light of its expanded focus, the college permanently changed its name to the now-familiar "The Ohio State University", with "The" as part of its official name." –  JLG Oct 1 '12 at 4:11
    
And when I went to The University of Iowa 30 years ago, The was part of its official name. It originally was The State University of Iowa but was shortened for everyday use to The University of Iowa because three schools contained the two words state and Iowa and two, the three words state, university, Iowa. link –  user21497 Oct 1 '12 at 9:25
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There is no rule to determine whether a particular name begins with an article: it is up to the namer of the thing. The article is capitalized when it is a part of the name, and not when it is not.

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The Queen has a capital T -- except when anyone else writes it. –  Andrew Leach Sep 30 '12 at 22:05
    
Here's one, and it took me about two minutes to find it. The author is a syndicated columist for the Scripps Howard News Service---he's also a friend of mine, so let's leave it at that. In an article he wrote analysing the film The Dark Knight, he wrote, " . . . In Dark Knight that Heath Ledger’s performance and character, The Joker, was such an amazing character that in a way Batman was a supporting actor in that film. He supported The Joker, but he was ancillary because it really was about The Joker." Note the capitalisation of the "the" in the movie's villain, the Joker. –  Commander Benson Oct 1 '12 at 2:32
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@CommanderBenson Sometimes. A quick visit to dccomics.com and a search for "joker" reveals that even the actual namers of the character are inconsistent about capitalization of "The". –  MετάEd Oct 1 '12 at 7:11
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