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A handful of companies like to see their names written entirely in upper case. Gigabyte and Asus are two that spring to mind, there are others.

Companies can do what they like. Journalists and editors shouldn’t use the upper case for these names.

We’re journalists, not brand managers

How Asus, Gigabyte or anyone else presents their company name in their own material is their affair. They have no right dictating how others treat their names.

If we gave in, it could be the thin end of the wedge. Next they will insist we print their names using a particular font or Pantone colour.

Breaking the rules

In written English proper nouns and the start of a sentence each get an initial capital letter. Think of them as signposts to help readers understand text.

Companies names are proper nouns. A single initial capital letter tells the reader that word is a name, not a description or verb.

Of course the fabric of our language doesn’t fall apart if we occasionally break the rules. Good writers do it all the time. On the other hand, communications would fail if people just wrote things how they pleased.

Mid-word capitals

Upper-case letters often appear in the middle of product names like PageMaker.

This is not a good practice and not every publication goes along with it. For example, The Economist would change PageMaker to Pagemaker.

Sadly the mid-name-capital train has left the station. Spell checkers insist on the capital M in the middle of PageMaker. It would be hard and fruitless to campaign against this. I’ve given up that fight as there are more important battles elsewhere.

Apple’s iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad are also problems. Apple’s brand power is so strong even the mighty Economist gives ground on these brand names. Editors are confused about how to treat these words if they fall at the start of a sentence.

If iPad why not GIGABYTE?

Good point. It is a question of signposting.

A word written entirely in upper case disrupts reader comprehension. This is precisely why companies want their names written in capitals. They want their brand to leap out of the page even if it undermines the rest of the words.

For that reason alone, journalists should resist.

There’s another signposting reason. Writing words in capitals is reserved for acronyms and initialisms. Good editorial style demands initialisms that are pronounced as a word, not spoken as a string of letters, like Nato should be treated as ordinary words.

Writing a word like Gigabyte in capitals signposts it should be pronounced as a string of letters.

Like shouting

Online writing conventions say words written in capitals indicate shouting. Brands think having names in capitals is like shouting them out. Their goal is to maximise their brand exposure.

Our job is to ease the flow of information to the reader, putting roadblocks, any roadblocks, in the way is bad.

Capitals make text harder to read. Use too many and it becomes hard to spot the proper nouns and sentence starts.

Update: Signposting pronunciation

One point I missed when writing about brand names like iPhone, iPad and so on is they are pronounced as eye-phone, eye-pad. There’s a logic here that he lower case i followed by a pronounceable name signposts pronunciation.

19 thoughts on “When brands choose funny typography

  1. I agree, except in conditions when the name of the organisation is an initialism or acronym, in which case that capitalisation should be kept.

    Or not – keen to hear what you think 🙂

    • That’s right, although most newspaper style-books prefer to write acronyms and initialisations as normal initial-capped words when they are pronounced as a word. Nato is the best example I can think of, there are better ones.

  2. But… but… UNESCO is always UNESCO as far as I remember? You know who is to blame for most of this don’t you? Dan Bricklin I reckon….. (youngists need to Google him).

  3. ACT used to be an acronym, but even though it isn’t anymore we still keep it in capitals to avoid confusion with things like the Education Act, etc.

    • It looks clumsy and barbaric, but presumably it’s written that way to tell us the name is pronounced as eye-eye-net.

      I doubt anyone would have clue what do if the came across iinet in text.

  4. Nice post, Bill. Yours is the first blog I’ve read on this topic. I remember debating recently on to how to spell ‘adidas’. I thought it should be spelt with a capital ‘A’. I was told it shouldn’t. I agree with you: Companies shouldn’t dictate to writers.

    • Why on earth would a journalist or editor want to write Adidas with a lower case a when it’s a proper noun?

      I’m curious to know what the company thinks it will signpost having it written that way. Perhaps it’s a way of telling us the brand is ubiquitous?

  5. Hi Bill – just come across your blog. This is a good post which I’ll add to Evernote, to bring out as supporting evidence when arguing similar issues with precious book authors. Sometimes they need some convincing, though last week I easily persuaded a more enlightened author that the company name DRECO, oft repeated in her manuscript, should be cut down to Dreco. For the record, Dreco stands for Dominion Radio and Electric Company. It was owned by Charles Begg & Co, the 1861-1970 nationwide music and appliances chain whose history I am working on

  6. I had an English teacher once quizzing the class “What is the only word in English that has a ‘q’ not followed by a ‘u’. The answer being Qantas.

    Also, I’m pretty sure when I was at school, initialisms were indicated by full stops, eg B.B.C. – when the hell did that stop?

    • Qantas has become an official word, at least it’s in my Oxford Dictionary. I wonder how many people remember its an acronym for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services?

      As for the missing stops, I don’t know when we stopped doing that. It was still in use when people flew with B.O.A.C. (until 1974) or watched the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (until 1968).

  7. I suppose that bizarre marketing names could be enclosed in quotes and then used as the owner wishes but that is still letting them win. Can you campaign against that ridiculous tautology ‘TSB Bank’ while you’re at it. Trustee Savings Bank Bank is just plain illiterate.

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