In some situations, a common noun in a specific scenario is treated as a proper noun because it refers to a specific entity that satisfies the common noun.

Is there a special term for this phenomenon?


"Go ask his father", said the teacher. vs "Go ask Father", said the mother.


"Most city halls have them", she replied. vs "City Hall has them", he stated.

  • 1
    @remarkl: It's fine for an answer to be wrong, and for people to suggest corrections/improvements to the answer in the comments below that answer. That said, you (and every other commenter, it seems) should post their answers as, well, answers - not as comments. – V2Blast Mar 14 '19 at 3:14
  • 1
    @V2Blast I have lost rep points because someone doesn't like a tentative answer, and I don't like it. It's not like the points are valuable, but they are mine, and I don't want to lose anything I have earned unless I get an explanation, which is rarely provided with downvotes here. So, my tentative suggestion will remain a comment unless and until it receives approbation, especially from the OP, in which case I will make it an answer, he can accept it, and the question can be closed. – remarkl Mar 14 '19 at 3:36
  • @V2Blast the Tour shows some quite short example answers, yet I have posted equally short answers only to have them downvoted and cristised by moderators, not because they are wrong but because they are short. Moreover it is frequently the case that I spend time making an answer, only to find the question has been deleted or put on hold before I can post it. I think the downvoting system should be scrapped. Eventual filtering can be done by lack of votes. This might also encourage positive feedback. – Weather Vane Mar 14 '19 at 8:33
  • I'd argue that Ask father is using a pronoun. Nobody says I am father or the like, do they? That doesn't invalidate the question (and answers), but another example would be appreciated. "Hello? Yes, this is dog" probably doesn't count. – vectory Mar 18 '19 at 16:05

In conventional resources on common and proper nouns, they are treated as two separate subcategories of noun.

Some sources do consider converting one kind of noun to another. Here is ThoughtCo author Richard Nordquist on going from a common to proper noun. The only applicable verb in the article is capitalize, referring to the change in form that signals a proper noun:

Many great authors have used the idea of capitalizing common nouns and making them proper to characterize specific inanimate objects or take a concept like "Great Places" and make them into a physical place in a fictional world.

However, in more academic contexts linguists have referred to the creation of proper nouns (single words) or proper names (noun phrases) as naming. Adrienne Lehrer in "Names and Naming: Why We Need Fields and Frames" describes the conventions of naming:

A common basic distinction in noun subclasses is between proper and common nouns. Often little more is said about the difference, as in contemporary generative grammar, where the difference is characterized by the feature +/- Proper. However, if we look at a wide range of names and at the processes for naming, we discover that the difference between common and proper nouns is anything but clear-cut; and moreover, the vocabulary is not neatly divided.

Another author, Willy Van Langendonck, describes this process as naming when summarizing a theory of proper name formation in Theory and Typology of Proper Names:

Thus, the difference between proper nouns and common nouns is basically a difference of dénomination (naming), i.e. proper names should be defined in terms of the (instructional) meaning X called Y, but not common nouns.

So naming forms a proper name or noun from (usually) a common noun or (occasionally) other parts of speech.

The reverse process is appellatization, described in The Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics as

The conversion of a proper name into a common noun

and cites aspirin and Kleenex as examples. Its verb form (appellativize) is turgid and technical.


It is following capitalization rules for nouns, and does not have a specific term.

The role of noun is not tied to the word, but to what it refers to. Words like mother and father are common nouns when the word "refers to people or things in general. When they refer to a particular person, they are a proper noun.

In your example, the capitalized use "Father" is being used as a proper noun as it identifies a particular being.


Interesting to see these different terms. In intellectual property law, an eponym can refer to a generic trademark or brand name, a form of metonymy, such as aspirin, heroin and thermos in the United States. I remember discussing this with some fascination in a linguistics class. I remember disliking the class but being interested in this particular concept.

  • Welcome to EL&U. While your comment here is related, it does not answer the question. Please find a moment to read to FAQ and tour the site to help with your contributions. Enjoy! – livresque Sep 6 '20 at 2:44
  • Thank you. I misread the question. I prefer the question of what is the name for trademark words that are proper nouns that become so popularized that they become the common term for the same product that other brands sell. However, thank you for the correction. – Caroline McKiernan Sep 8 '20 at 22:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.