When starting a sentence with a lower case pseudonym, such as a screen name of a user account on a website, should it be capitalized? Or are there different cases where it would and would not be appropriate to do so?

My curiosity was sparked by this meta EL&U page where a user comments that he does not mind if his name is lower-cased or not.

Are there any established standards on this practice?

  • 1
    Though both answers below merely suggest avoidance, I would say that the standard practice is to avoid doing it. – horatio Feb 22 '11 at 20:34
  • 2
    Agree strongly with rewording the sentence being the best bet. Its important to note that some systems are case-sensitive, e.g., Anthony and anthony are two different user names. For those systems especially, never change the case. – derobert Feb 24 '11 at 6:16

When writing professionally, the first letter in the sentence is capitalized, sole exceptions being when the capitalization could result in a misunderstanding. In such cases, the word is usually typeset differently.

However, when writing in an informal context, you might want to take into consideration the preference of the user. For example, Randall Munroe prefers his username xkcd to remain lowercase; however, as you've linked, some users like nohat do not mind it being capitalized. If you are unsure, I would suggest capitalizing it and adhering to professional writing style.

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    Exception: technical contexts with case-sensitive terms. Usually it's best to reorder the sentence, but the typical solution is to set the terms in a fixed-width typeface. this is the sort of thing I mean. – Jon Purdy Feb 22 '11 at 8:11
  • @Jon When I was writing it, I was racking my brain trying to think of somewhere was case-sensitivity mattered, since I was pretty sure there was some case somewhere that I just couldn't think of. Thanks for finding it for me. – waiwai933 Feb 25 '11 at 0:50
  • 'Q: How do I write "xkcd"? There's nothing in Strunk and White about this. A: For those of us pedantic enough to want a rule, here it is: The preferred form is "xkcd", all lower-case. In formal contexts where a lowercase word shouldn't start a sentence, "XKCD" is an okay alternative. "Xkcd" is frowned upon.' – Hugo Jul 17 '11 at 16:44

I would avoid this issue by starting the sentence differently:

The user elufan123 is running for moderator ...

  • +1 -- but I prefer "The artist known as ..." – bye Feb 22 '11 at 14:22
  • Although your answer gives a more direct response for the “best practices” of this situation, waiwai933 more directly answered my questions. If I could, I'd accept both of your answers, though! – Paul Merrill Feb 25 '11 at 0:45

Where possible, I would suggest avoiding putting a username at the start of a sentence, otherwise to pick a style and follow it. Above all, write clearly and unambiguously.

Are there any established standards on this practice?

I asked the editors of the Guardian newspaper's style guide about this:

Q. What's your style on capitalising (sometimes case-sensitive) usernames? And how about at the start of a sentence? Or just avoid it?

A. We spell it however the user does, including at the start of a sentence.


Well, it is a problem.

H/horatio is right about the common practice:

Though both answers below merely suggest avoidance, I would say that the standard practice is to avoid doing it.

I guess it gets down to the standard answer to orthography questions: choose some way to cope with it. If you're important enough, it may stick (think iMac etc.)

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