Style guides seem to agree that words referred to as words should be italicized or set in quotes. So:

  • The term critical mass is...

The CMOS 17th adds that proper nouns used as words are usually set in roman, giving this example:

  • You rarely see iPhone with a capital i. (Section 7.63)

I'm wondering more generally about references to names. Does it make sense to leave all the following names in roman?

  • Two men, both named Sam, were...

  • His name was Sam.

  • Call me Ishmael.

  • The girl called herself Peggy, though her name was Margaret.

  • She referred to the drink as a Manhattan Project and ordered two.

  • What do you mean by "roman"? Please cite the sources you mention. Is this a proof-reading question? Apr 28, 2018 at 20:55
  • By "roman" I mean regular type, that is, type that is not set in italics, bold, or small caps. It's not a proof-reading question. It's a question about styling names referred to as names. The third example is from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick or The Whale (Penguin 1992), page 3. The others are invented for the purpose of illustration in this question.
    – jdscomms
    Apr 28, 2018 at 21:09
  • 1
    I don't think any of the last five examples need any kind of emphasis. Apr 28, 2018 at 21:32
  • A name is just that, a name, not a word used as a word, as in “English smart and German Schmerz ‘pain’ are cognates.”
    – KarlG
    Apr 28, 2018 at 22:02
  • 1
    Let me try this again. If you were are talking about names, say, “English sources routinely omit the diacritical marks in Dvořák,” then that is a word as word. If you write “Few Americans could master the Czech pronunciation of the name Dvořák, it's no longer word as word.
    – KarlG
    Apr 29, 2018 at 2:19

1 Answer 1


Weather Vane and jdscoms has fair points, jdscoms. You do need to research more fully.

Nevertheless, your question also has a point. The use of italics or single scare quotes to indicate mention rather than use is a convention in the sense that it does not emerge from the rough and tumble of day to day conversation and correspondence. The convention is observed to avoid misunderstanding or involuntary humour.

It is worth remembering that in ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin there was no punctuation of any kind, and they managed quite well.

Proper names do not normally need this convention. There is no need to distinguish between “My brother is George.”, and “My name is George”. There is no chance of misunderstanding.

But you might think twice before writing “George is six letters long.”. It is unlikely to be misunderstood. But it does look a bit silly. Note, though, that you do not have to use italic or scare quotes. You could just write: “the name George is six letters long.”. Then we shall all know what you mean.

As for the iPhone, that is a brand name and the ‘i’ must be left untouched.

Overall, a little common sense takes us a long way.


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