When To Capitalize The Common Noun Names Of Family Relatives

by | Feb 5, 2014 | Grammar and Usage, Other Helpful Information | 3 comments

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When To Capitalize The Common Noun Names Of Family Relatives

Capitalizing can be tricky, especially when family’s involved. Of course, all first and last names should be capitalized—that’s a no-brainer. But, like any family, throw in some aunts, dads, cousins, and possessive nouns, and suddenly things get a bit more complicated.

When should you use lowercase?

If the common noun name is preceded by a possessive pronoun.

Example: She’s going to have a talk with her mother.

Example: His father likes playing BINGO.

Similarly, when using terms of endearment, lowercase the nicknames.

Example: I’m jealous of his relationship with his mom (mama, momma, etc.).

Example: My dad (pop, papa, etc.) is the best!

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When do you capitalize the common noun name?

If the common noun is used as a substitute for the person’s name.

Example: She’s going to have a talk with Mother (Mom, Mama, Momma, etc).

Example: He likes playing BINGO with Father (Dad, Pop, Papa, etc).

Or, if the common noun is used as a title.

Example: I’m so excited about Cousin Jill’s bridal shower!

Example: They attended Grandma Bryan’s funeral.

By following these basic capitalization guidelines, you can rest assured that no one in your common noun family will feel slighted or improperly identified. And hopefully, all your family get-togethers will be drama- and mistake-free.

Photo by Daniel Y. Go

penQUESTION: Which other grammatical rules do you struggle with?

3 Comments

  1. Karen Conlin

    Isn’t it odd that the guideline (I hesitate to say “rule”) doesn’t seem to apply in reality (as opposed to in theory) to “son” and “daughter” in the same way as “Mom” and “Dad?” I’ve seen this question over and over, and the consensus seems to be that “Come back here, son” is correct, even though “son” is clearly a substitute for a proper name (“Billy,” perhaps). Compounding that situation, it’s seldom that one uses “daughter” in the same way (at least in current usage). If one follows CMoS, one should rightly say “Come back here, Son” in that case — but how many times is that actually done?

    Interesting stuff, no?

    Reply
  2. Shawn Wolf

    It seems to me that when using phrases like this…

    “Come back here, son.”

    …the ‘son’ is used as a term of endearment, such as ‘honey’ or ‘dear’. And in those cases, you don’t capitalize.

    Mom and Dad are different, in the they can be used like this:

    “Mom is going to the store today, do you need anything?”

    But you’d never see something like this:

    “Son has a baseball game this afternoon.”

    Just as you’d never see something like this:

    “Dear has a baseball game this afternoon.”

    That leads me to conclude that ‘son’ is more like ‘dear’ than it is like ‘Mom’.

    Reply
  3. Derwyn

    Great article. An excellent example of the capitalization usage of the word Son/son in a sentence.

    Reply

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