Creative Capitals and Symbols in Business Names


If businesses had their way, news media would serve no purpose other than to promote them.

Front-page articles would be dedicated to the rich, satisfying flavor of this or that brand of cigarette. Headlines would tout how a sale at a local retailer blows away the competition and is, in fact, the greatest thing to ever happen to readers of that publication. Company names would be in 30-point type everywhere they appeared and bolded and surrounded with dollar signs, too.

Companies’ interests simply aren’t the same as readers’ interests. So for that reason, editors like to keep them reined in. And editing styles include rules to do so.

For example, E*Trade, the online brokerage firm, uses an asterisk in its name. If I were an exec at that company I would, of course, want it to be written that way in print. Helps grow the brand, and all that.

Other companies have different approaches. Capital letters are a big favorite among ATTENTION-SEEKING COMPANIES. Some make their names all caps (ARIA resort), others go all lowercase (smart fortwo), and still others get funky with their caps (iPad). Caps can cry “look at me, know my brand” in the pages of an article that should be serving the reader, not the people who want to take advantage of the reader’s attention to sell him something. That’s what ads are for.

That’s why in many cases editing styles advocate capitalizing and punctuating company names as though they were garden-variety proper nouns. In my editing work, whenever there's mention of those little two-person golf-cart-like cars, I make sure they're written Smart Fortwo, with the first word of each proper noun capitalized. E-Trade gets a hyphen, not an asterisk, and Macy’s gets an apostrophe. And the self-proclaimed ARIA resort is the Aria in any page I’m editing.

Of course, you can’t always get away from funky tradenames. Both Chicago and AP styles say to uppercase the second letter of iPad and iPod. AP says that, at the beginning of a sentence, IPad and IPod start with a capital I, even though the P remains capped. Chicago lets you keep the first letter lowercase even at the beginning of a sentence.

If you don’t have a stylebook handy, you can just follow this simple principle: Don’t let companies use your publication as a marquee. Whenever possible, treat them like most proper nouns, beginning with a capital, proceeding with lowercase and containing no smiley faces, snowflakes or peace signs. When that looks too weird, you can cave a little.

Tags: , ,