For instance:

Outside the city gates, there's a dangerous forested domain. We often refer to it as the wild terrain... We entered the specified area, the so-called "wild terrain".

Do you have to capitalize the words 'wild' and 'terrain' in that sentence? When does something become a name and deserves capitalizing?

So a well known, agreed upon descriptor, that is used frequently, does not constitute a name?

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    You would only capitalize "wild terrain," if it were dubbed that by people. When people called it "wild terrain," if they were using it as a descriptor, then it wouldn't be capitalized. However, if people actually called it "Wild Terrain" like that were its name, e.g., "We're going up to Wild Terrain to do some hunting," then it would be capitalized. – Benjamin Harman Jan 16 '16 at 7:10
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    Do you realize you have a comma splice after "domain?" There should be a period after "domain," and the word "we" should start a new sentence. Also, when used adjectivally, the term is "so-called" with a hyphen. – Benjamin Harman Jan 16 '16 at 7:12
  • @BenjaminHarman Thanks for pointing that out. I'll read about comma splice to avoid this in the future. – AturSams Jan 16 '16 at 7:24
  • No, only proper names are capitalized. Unless you are writing a novel in which case you can do as you like. – Lambie Jul 15 '18 at 23:36

In your example, the principle that determines whether to capitalize wild terrain should be whether a name or term is unique and perceived as a proper noun by the writer. There could be many wild terrains in anywhere in the word. We can't capitalize it just because the terrain is wild.

If you contrast wild terrain with Death Valley, you could notice that Death Valley is capitalized even though there could be many death valleys that are extremely dangerous to people anywhere in the world. Death Valley is capitalized because it is a proper noun conceived by many people as such and it indicates only one death valley located in eastern California.

If wild terrain could be perceived as a proper noun by many people, it should be capitalized like Death Valley. Until then, it is appropriate not to capitalize it. The linked Wikipedia article on Capitalization explains it as follows:

The capitalization of geographic terms in English text generally depends on whether the author perceives the term as a proper noun, in which case it is capitalized, or as a combination of an established proper noun with a normal adjective or noun, in which case the latter are not capitalized. There are no universally agreed lists of English geographic terms which are considered as proper nouns...

Conclusion: It depends.


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  • Many thanks for clarifying and helping resolve my doubts. So if pretty much everyone uses the words "Wild Terrain" to refer to a specific locale, we can and should capitalize these words. Correct? With one correction, it is normally proper to drop the "The" in there? – AturSams Jan 16 '16 at 8:54
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    Yes, it could be capitalized by people in your specific area if they perceive it as a proper noun even if it is not well-known to other people outside the region. There are some proper nouns that have the (The Hague, the Netherlands, the Sudan, etc.) but normally a proper noun doesn't require the definite article. – user140086 Jan 16 '16 at 8:56

Circumstances may vary, but generally speaking, a place gets an official name when it's entered in maps and tax books. At that point it usually loses the definite article and, if a plural, turns singular, so the green hills just up the road become Green Hills.

Did you see those green hills just up the road? They're beautiful.

Did you see Green Hills, it's just up the road? It's beautiful.

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  • Oh, I see, interesting! So people can keep using an agreed upon pairing of words to refer to a specific place for many years without it being considered a "name" and therefore, it would not require capitalization in writing? – AturSams Jan 16 '16 at 7:18
  • It does happen. – Ricky Jan 16 '16 at 7:57
  • So if we were detectives and we knew of some joint where we may want to plant a bug and spy on some potential culprits... we could continuously refer to that room as "their usual hanging spot". Which would later be naturally truncated to "the hanging spot". We would not need to capitalize that as it's not a name, it's a string of words agreed upon in advance that refer to a place that may even not have a name. – AturSams Jan 16 '16 at 8:49
  • Uh ... right, I guess. You've been watching way too many movies. .... Hangout. – Ricky Jan 16 '16 at 9:23
  • I'm an avid movie goer and partially a Cinema theoretician. What did you mean in your comment? It wasn't clear? What puzzled me is that you said right while my comment did not make a statement, it was more of a question directed at you. – AturSams Jan 16 '16 at 9:34

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