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Memorandum of Law on the Name
Author: Gordon W. Epperly, Alaska

Many people are involved in diligent research concerning the use of all capital letters for proper names, e.g., JOHN PAUL JONES as a substitute for John Paul Jones in all court documents, driver's licenses, bank accounts, birth certificates, etc. Is the use of all capital letters to designate a name some special English grammar rule or style? Is it a contemporary American style of English? Is the use of this form of capitalization recognized by educational authorities? Is this an official judicial or U.S. government rule and/or style of grammar? Why do attorneys, court clerks, prosecutors judges, insurance companies, banks, credit card companies, utility companies, etc. always use all capital letters when writing a proper name?


What English grammar experts say...

One of the foremost authorities on American English grammar, style, composition, and rules is The Chicago Manual of Style. The latest (14th) Edition, published by the University of Chicago Press, is internationally known and respected as a major contribution to maintaining and improving the standards of written or printed text. Since we can find no reference in their manual concerning the use of all capitalized letters with a proper name or any other usage, we wrote to the editors and asked this question:

"Is it acceptable, or is there any rule of English grammar, to allow a proper name to be written in all capital letters? For example, if my name was John Paul Jones, can it be written as JOHN PAUL JONES? Is there any rule covering this?"


The Editorial Staff of the University of Chicago answered:

"Writing names in all caps is not conventional; it is not Chicago style to put anything in all caps. For instance, even if 'GONE WITH THE WIND' appears on the title page all in caps, we would properly render it 'Gone with the Wind' in a bibliography. The only reason we can think of to do so is if you are quoting some material where it is important to the narrative to preserve the casing of the letters.

“We're not sure in what context you would like your proper name to appear in all caps, but it is likely to be seen as a bit odd."

Law is extremely precise. Every letter, capitalization, punctuation mark, etc., in a legal document is utilized for a specific reason and has legal (i.e. deadly force) consequences. If, for instance, one attempts to file articles of incorporation in the office of a Secretary of State of a State, if the exact title of the corporation — down to every jot and title— is not exactly the same each and every time the corporation is referenced in the documents to be filed, the Secretary of State will refuse to file the papers. This is because each time the name of the corporation is referenced it must be set forth identically in order to express the same legal entity. The tiniest difference in the name of the corporation identifies an entirely different legal person.

It is therefore an eminently valid, and possibly crucial, question as to why governments, governmental courts, and agencies purporting to exist (in some undefined, unproved manner) within the jurisdiction of “this state” insist on always capitalizing every letter in a proper name.

Mary Newton Bruder, Ph.D., also known as The Grammar Lady, who established the Grammar Hotline in the late 1980's for the "Coalition of Adult Literacy," was asked the following question:

"Why do federal and state government agencies and departments, judicial and administrative courts, insurance companies, etc., spell a person's proper name in all capital letters? For example, if my name is John Paul Jones, is it proper at any time to write my name as JOHN PAUL JONES?"

Dr. Bruder's reply was short and to the point: "It must be some kind of internal style. There is no grammar rule about it."

It seemed that these particular grammatical experts had no idea why proper names were written in all caps, so we began to assemble an extensive collection of reference books authored by various publishers, governments, and legal authorities to find the answer.


What English grammar reference books say...


Manual on Usage & Style

One of the reference books obtained was the "Manual on Usage & Style," Eighth Edition, ISBN I-878674-51-X, published by the Texas Law Review in 1995. Section D, CAPITALIZATION, paragraph D: 1:1 states:

"Always capitalize proper nouns... [Proper nouns], independent of the context in which they are used, refer to specific persons, places, or things (e.g., Dan, Austin, Rolls Royce)."

Paragraph D: 3:2 of Section D states:

"Capitalize People, State, and any other terms used to refer to the government as a litigant (e.g., the People's case, the State's argument), but do not capitalize other words used to refer to litigants (e.g., the plaintiff, defendant Manson)."

Either no attorney, judge, or law clerk in Texas has ever read the recognized law style manual that purports to pertain to them, or the act is a deliberate violation of the rules for undisclosed reasons. In either ignorance (“ignorance of the law is no excuse”) or violation (one violating the law he enforces on others is acting under title of nobility and abrogating the principle of equality under the law) of law, they continue to write "Plaintiff,” "Defendant," "THE STATE OF TEXAS" and proper names of parties in all capital letters on every court document.

The Elements of Style

Another well-recognized reference book is "The Elements of Style," Fourth Edition, ISBN 0-205-30902-X, written by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, published by Allyn & Bacon in 1999. Within this renowned English grammar and style reference book, is found only one reference to capitalization, located within the Glossary at "proper noun," page 94, where it states:

"The name of a particular person (Frank Sinatra), place (Boston), or thing (Moby Dick). Proper nouns are capitalized."

There's an obvious and legally evident difference between capitalizing the first letter of a proper name as compared to capitalizing every letter used to portray the name.

The American Heritage Book
of English Usage

The American Heritage Book of English Usage, A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English, published in 1996, at Chapter 9, E-Mail, Conventions and Quirks, Informality, states:

"To give a message special emphasis, an E-mailer may write entirely in capital letters, a device E-mailers refer to as screaming. Some of these visual conventions have emerged as away of getting around the constraints on data transmission that now limit many networks".

Here is a reference source, within contemporary — modern — English, that states it is of an informal manner to write every word of — specifically — an electronic message, a.k.a. e-mail, in capital letters. They say it's "screaming" to do so. By standard definition, we presume that is the same as shouting or yelling. Are all judges, as well as their court clerks and attorneys, shouting at us when they corrupt our proper names in this manner? (If so, what happened to the decorum of a court if everyone is yelling?) Is the insurance company screaming at us for paying the increased premium on our Policy? This is doubtful as to any standard generalization, even though specific individual instances may indicate this to be true. It is safe to conclude, however, that it would also be informal to write a proper name in the same way.

Does this also imply that those in the legal profession are writing our Christian names informally on court documents? Are not attorneys and the courts supposed to be specific, formally writing all legal documents to the "letter of the law?" If the law is at once both precise and not precise, what is its significance, credibility, and force and effect?


New Oxford Dictionary of English

"The New Oxford Dictionary of English" is published by the Oxford University Press. Besides being considered the foremost authority on the British English language, this dictionary is also designed to reflect the way language is used today through example sentences and phrases. We submit the following definitions from the 1998 edition:

Proper noun (also proper name). Noun. A name used for an individual person, place, organization, spelled with an initial capital letter, e.g. Jane, London, and Oxfam.

Name. Noun 1 A word or set of words by which a person, animal, place, or thing is known,addressed, or referred to: my name is Parsons, John Parsons. Kalkwasser is the German name for limewater. Verb 2 Identify by name; give the correct name for: the dead man has been named as John Mackintosh. Phrases. 3 In the name of. Bearing or using the name of a specified person or organization: a driving license in the name of William Sanders.


From the "Newbury House Dictionary of American English," published by Monroe Allen Publishers, Inc., (1999):

name n. I [C] a word by which a person, place, or thing is known: Her name is Diane Daniel.

We can find absolutely no example in any recognized reference book that specifies or allows the use of all capitalized names, proper or common. There is no doubt that a proper name, to be grammatically correct, must be written with only the first letter capitalized, with the remainder of the word in a name spelled with lower case letters.

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