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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