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I'm working in an Indigenous Australian context in which particular sacred trees and animals are capitalised. I'm aware that the specific name of the tree, for example, needs to be capitalised but would I capitalise the word 'tree' in the following example?

'The Wattle tree is sacred to us'

Or

'The Wattle Tree is sacred to us'

Thanks

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3 Answers 3

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According to most Style Guides, Proper Nouns will have Capitalizations through out, except maybe for words like "the", "a" or "of".

So both words in your example should be Capitalized :

'The Wattle Tree is sacred to us'

Quick Reference:
https://www.thesaurus.com/e/grammar/common-vs-proper-nouns/

More Examples, taking these as made-up names of movies or novels :

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Capital Letters
Helena of Troy
Queen in a Cage

UPDATE :

[[ I am not sure what to make of this situation; The answer by @FumbleFingers goes against my answer, but still the google ngram used in that answer is in support of my answer ! ]]

Using this query in Google Books Ngram Viewer ....

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=the+Wattle+tree%2Cthe+wattle+tree%2Cthe+Wattle+Tree&year_start=1920&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=10&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cthe%20Wattle%20tree%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cthe%20wattle%20tree%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cthe%20Wattle%20Tree%3B%2Cc0

.... I get this Statistic:

Green line moving UP !

Even though I am not sure what to make of this, I think : (1) "the Wattle Tree" is currently used, and is increasing in usage ; (2) "the Wattle tree" is not common ; & (3) "the wattle tree" is very common in general, but may not be suitable in the "Sacred Sense" required by OP.

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  • This might be true if they're talking about a specific instance of wattle trees, but if they're talking about wattle trees in general, it wouldn't be.
    – nick012000
    May 24 at 8:33
  • I just searched Google Books for "tree is sacred to". The first page of 10 results included ... the hawthorn tree is sacred to many people... the bodhi tree is sacred to Buddhists... The silk-cotton tree is sacred to the Ngombe,,, The ash tree is sacred to the Celts. But I didn't see any instances featuring capitalisation. If it's just a type of tree (as opposed to a proper noun like the Yggdrasil tree, I wouldn't capitalise. May 24 at 10:13
  • 1
    (Capitalisation of books and movies is irrelevant here, because they're titles, not "nouns referring to entities", so they get capitalised the same way as newspaper headlines.) May 24 at 10:15
  • Requesting your thoughts on my update , @FumbleFingers
    – Prem
    May 24 at 15:30
  • My thoughts are in my own answer. Your wattle trees may not be as familiar to us as oaks sacred to Druids, or cow to Hindus, but that's no reason to put them on a higher pedestal by capitalising. May 25 at 3:41
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I interpret the OP's question to be:

Taking it as given that Wattle is capitalised in this context, should tree in the phrase Wattle tree be capitalised as well?

That is, I set aside the question, raised in another answer, about the capitalisation of Wattle, and simply assume that, in this context, it should be capitalised.

The question is similar to the question that was asked before about the capitalisation of, for example, integral in Riemann integral. In all these cases we have a phrase that contains a word that is definitely a proper name, and a word that, in other contexts, functions as a common noun. The question is then whether to treat the latter in such cases as a common noun or a part of a two-word proper name.

There is no general answer to such questions; it is a matter of conventions that differ from one field to another. Consider, for example the geographic names, such as the Atlantic Ocean. In these cases, it is a well established convention to treat the whole two-word phrase as the proper name of the ocean, and to consequently capitalise both words. Somebody could reason that this is simply an ocean, one among several, that is distinguished from the others by the name Atlantic, and that ocean should therefore not be capitalised. There would be nothing wrong with this reasoning considered in the abstract (after all, that's precisely what is done in, say, French), it's just that the universally accepted convention among English speakers is to the contrary. The conventions, however, go the other way with respect to Riemann integral, Euler's number and suchlike. One could argue that Euler's number is the proper name of that number and that consequently both words in that phrase ought to be capitalised; there would be nothing in principle wrong about that argument; it's just that, as a matter of convention, it hasn't been generally embraced.

So, the answer to the OP is: there is no general rule of the language that determines whether to capitalise tree in Wattle tree (again, taking it as given that Wattle is to be capitalised). It is a matter of convention in the relevant field. If it is an established practice among the respectable writers in the field to capitalise it, it would be wise to go along; if not, not.

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  • +1 , I "Interpreted" it the same way in my answer, that is, I took that as a Proper Noun and hence, I said that both words should be Capitalized, using the "rules" for Proper Nouns.
    – Prem
    May 24 at 18:34
  • ... So POB; the 'how long is the proper noun' question has been dealt with per se. May 24 at 19:01
  • @EdwinAshworth, what exactly is 'POB' here: (1) that this is a matter of field-specific conventions, or (2) which convention would be better to adopt here? The answer says nothing about the latter (which could indeed be argued to be a matter of opinion); the former is not itself a matter of opinion (it is either true or false; if you believe that it is false, you should say so, and post what you regard as the correct answer). See this meta-question.
    – jsw29
    May 24 at 20:21
  • I see no inherent conflict between this and my own answer. All things being equal, I personally wouldn't capitalise "wattle", so the issue of whether or not to capitalise "tree" simply wouldn't arise. But all things aren't equal if we assume as a given that "Wattle" will be capitalised, in which case I personally probably would capitalise "Tree" as well. But that's a stylistic choice which most people apparently don't make in such contexts... May 25 at 11:08
  • See this NGram for sat under the Bodhi tree - which will almost always be a reference to Buddha sitting there gaining enlightenment, so that's obviously another "sacred" context (where "Tree" usually isn't capitalised, but I would do that). May 25 at 11:11
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I wouldn't even capitalise wattle, let alone tree. Nor do most other writers...

enter image description here

Being case-sensitive, the above chart misses sentences starting with The, so for good measure here are those too...

enter image description here

Of course, this tree is "important" (but not necessarily "sacred") to many "non-indigenous" Australians too, given that apparently The wattle tree is the national emblem of Australia.

I would also point out that almost no-one ever capitalises The cow is sacred to Hindus. That just seems more "natural" to most Anglophones because we're more familiar with cows than wattle-trees.

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  • +1 for the carefully limited claim in the first line. Capitalizing one or both words remains an available rhetorical choice, at least in dual-case writing systems. Similar (and fraught) choices determine whether a writer or publication renders racial designations as "black and white" or "Black and white" or "Black and White." May 24 at 11:17
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    With all due respect, I don't think that this answer is sufficiently attentive to the fact that OP is 'working in an Indigenous Australian context' in which these trees are regarded as sacred. Capitalising their names fits well the general rules of the language if they function as proper names in this context, even if they are common nouns in other contexts. Pronouncing a judgment on whether they can be regarded as proper names would require a more extensive discussion of the conceptualisation of the trees in the relevant cultural/religious framework.
    – jsw29
    May 24 at 16:08
  • @jsw29: I don't see how "an Indigenous Australian context" is any different to the context of my example cow being sacred to Hindus. Actually, I think capitalising my Cow or OP's Wattle Tree is really just a kind of "poetic flourish" optional stylistic choice - like Blake's capitalised Tyger, Tyger , burning bright, In the forests of the night. (Except I personally like Tygers, cows, and wattle trees, not the other way around! :) May 25 at 3:28
  • @FumbleFingers, you are right that sacredness by itself in not a sufficient reason for capitalising the word. To determine whether wattle functions as a proper name here, one would need to to know more than just that wattle trees are regarded a sacred; one would need to understand the nature of their sacredness. Forming an opinion on whether the Indigenous Australian and Hindu contexts are different in this respect would require a discussion of their respective ways of conceptualising these creatures; I am not arguing the matter either way.
    – jsw29
    May 25 at 15:16

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