proper names Link to this term

Nothing destroys the credibility of a writer more than sloppy use of people's names. Here are some pointers:

  • Public figures: use both given and family names (Barack Obama, Paris Hilton, Osama bin Laden, Ai Weiwei, Vincent van Gogh) at first mention, then either both names or family name only (Obama, Hilton, bin Laden, Ai, van Gogh). Never use only given names as this will undermine the all-important tone and integrity of your writing. And note that not all names follow the European convention of Christian name or first name followed by surname or second name. You may need to do a bit of research to get the name order right, but it's worthwhile.
  • Spelling: always double-check spelling, even for a well-known name. Use the subject's own website or a reliable academic source. Particularly check names that have common variants. Be fussy about upper or lower case in names like MacDonald, Fitzsimons, and always try to follow the style used by the subject—even if it's a typographic challenge like kd lang, ee cummings, π-o (the poet Pi O) and so on.
Professor Link to this term

write in full, (not Prof) when part of a title: Professor John Smith. Lower case to describe job: John Smith, professor of linguistics at... Upper case if part of endowed professorship: John Smith is Arthur C Clarke Professor of space studies at...

names of animals, birds etc Link to this term

green tree frog, cane toad, kookaburra—all lower case. But German shepherd, French poodle.

capitalisation Link to this term

We limit initial caps (apart from those marking the beginning of a sentence) to proper nouns—that is, nouns naming a particular person or thing. So we'd write 'Mark Scott, the ABC's managing director…' or 'John Smith, adjunct professor at ANU…'

No caps for 'premier', 'prime minister', 'president', 'executive producer', 'artistic director', 'curator', and so on, because these are all common nouns. When used as a form of address, a common noun is capped and becomes a title: President Obama, Queen Elizabeth, Pope Benedict, Governor Bartlett; but 'Australia's prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is visiting China…' or collectively, 'Previous popes have held similar views…' are all lower case.