capitalization - Why we capitalize all race names but our own

  • Tango

    This question about alien species and planets brought up something I've been thinking about on and off for years.

    We capitalize names of alien races like Vulcan, Timelord, Cylon (well, maybe not alien), Krell, Nox, Minbari, and so on, but we never capitalize human.

    So how did we end up capitalizing names for sentient species when we don't do that for our own race?

  • Answers
  • KitFox

    Most of the names you give are derived from proper place names, or clan names, or such, so using "human" as a comparison is not accurate.

    For instance, Vulcan and Minbari are named for their planets. We would capitalize Terran likewise (or Earthling or Martian).

    Also Krell, Nox, and Timelord are groups of peoples (my apologies for not using a panxenic term, but "beings" was too confusing). We would likewise capitalize Irish, Passamaquoddy, Vandals, etc. (And naturally, Timelords are Gallifreyan, just as Mongols are Terran.) Or if you consider them more like ethnicities, you would still capitalize them, like you do with Jewish, Native American, Latina, etc.

    Also, in response to Vulcans born off-world as still being Vulcans, I'd make the argument that Asians born in America (for instance) are still often called Asian, or Asian-American.

    And finally, I think and I know I may well be dunned for it, that Cylon was a "brand" name for the original cybernetic organisms. And we would likewise capitalize Sunbeam, Keurig, General Electric, etc.

    So then by example, human is not capitalized because it is not a proper noun, and not derived from a proper noun. Vulcans, Minbari, and Timelords are humanoid beings. There are also reptilian beings, silicon beings, and energy beings, but we don't capitalize any of those types of beings (human, humanoid, reptilian, silicon, energy, etc).

    It is a good question, though. Here is a discussion that you may find interesting.

  • John Y

    Actually, I think some writers in some contexts would capitalize "Human", especially in the context of interstellar sentient races, just as some writers capitalize Earth when referring to the planet in the context of other named planets.

    I think the case for not capitalizing human is that we normally use it as a common noun, not a proper one. For example, we would write "there are people over there". We could just as well write "there are humans over there", but we wouldn't use "there are People over there".

    I'm actually all for capitalizing Human and Earth in science fiction, though some writers will opt for different words instead, such as Terran (as mentioned in Kit's answer), so that the "properness" of the name is clearer.

  • RegDwigнt

    Capitalization has nothing to do with conventions in any particular genre. In English, we capitalize proper nouns and adjectives derived from proper nouns. Vulcan, Earthling, and Venusian are all adjectives derived from the proper nouns Vulcan Earth, and Venus. Human is not a proper noun, any more the elf, dwarf, people, or purple-people-eater.

    We capitalize Earth (or Venus, or Mars, or Terra, or Cygnus-XYJ) when referring to a planet, celestial body, or crazed celebrity brand pseudonym, because those would all be proper nouns. We do not capitalize earth when we mean dust or soil.

    Incidentally, we capitalize Elf when we are referring to the movie, and I suppose if we were to start talking about the main character's dizzy, breathless wonder as "a thing" we might describe someone, somewhere, as being Elfian, but please don't.

    I have a related post at

  • Related Question

    capitalization - Why is god, a common noun, capitalized?
  • Victor

    Possible Duplicate:
    When should the word “God” be capitalized?

    I thought god is a common noun, but many people capitalize it when it is not the first letter of a sentence or a title.

  • Related Answers
  • kiamlaluno

    When you are referring to the creator of the universe of some religions, you write God; when you are referring to a superhuman being (or a deity) of some other religions, you write god.

    The difference is that in monotheistic religions there is only one god, and God often becomes (as in Christianity) a proper noun; in non monotheistic religions (e.g. Hinduism), there isn't a single god, and God is not the name of one of the gods (it is god Vishnu, not God Vishnu).

    This is similar to what happen with Moon, used when referring to the natural satellite of planet Earth, and moon, used to refer to the natural satellite of any planet (e.g., Jupiter moons); the same happens with Sun, which is the star around which planet Earth orbits, and sun, which is used to refer any star similar to the Sun (with or without planets).

  • advs89


    It (and some pronouns), when referring to the creator of the universe, is a proper noun and is capitalized (just like "Bob" or "Joe" would be).

    When being used as a common noun, it is referring to the concept of a god (or god as a "type," if you will) and is not capitalized (just like "human" or "dog" would be)


    The following are all correct:

    I pray to God three times a day.

    I pray to a god three times a day.

    I pray to Him three times a day.

  • Jonathan Leffler

    It depends on whether you subscribe to a monotheistic universe (where you use a capital letter, since there is only one God), or a polytheistic universe (where you use a lower case letter since there are many gods), or an atheistic universe (where you probably use a lower case letter, but don't believe that 'god' exists and avoid the term whenever possible).

  • The Raven

    Only religious writings and publications, and material written by the devout, would capitalize pronouns and possessives when in reference to the Christian god. Secular writing is not enjoined to follow the practice. Capitalization of "God" generally serves as a marker for the Judeo-Christian-Islamic deity. Secular writers will usually capitalize "God" out of convention, but not necessarily respect for said deity or the adherents of same.