When to Capitalize Names That are Not Names

EditingI’m in the midst of editing a short story for another writer. One of the items I’m highlighting for correction is names that are not really names. About seven years ago, I was in the same situation except I was the one creating the error.

Back then I had Goggle and a few great writing friends to guide me, so it was fairly painless. Here are the general guidelines I follow (which in some style guides/writing circles may be different).

  1. Of course, all proper names are capitalized:

Betty and Jim flew to Mars for their anniversary.

It was seven days before Jack realised he had a balloon stuck to his front door.

Together Gilbert, John, Grace and Billy hiked the mountain.

  1. Parents and grandparents names are capitalized if used in place of a name (Hint: it isn’t preceded by her or my):

In the morning, Mom let the chickens out to eat the bugs.

Sally wanted to give Dad a trip to Scotland for his birthday.

I went to the store with Grandpa to buy cranberries.

These names are NOT capitalized if NOT used in place of a name:

In the morning, my mom let the chickens out to eat the bugs.

Sally wanted to give her dad a trip to Scotland for his birthday.

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“A free ebook!” exclaimed Jiggles.

Names. Our characters need them, but where do we find them? I’ve searched dozens of sources looking for perfect names, ones readers will remember easily and relate with. Often times I do find unique ones that suit the characters, but not always.

Sometimes my adult brain gets in the way of finding a great name. Perhaps I should start letting my kids pick them. They seem to have a knack for discovering the perfect name that describes a character, is unique and memorable. Their names – which are mostly gender neutral – for their pets stand out and make visitors smile.

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