My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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my capitalization rules

In my moving notice yesterday, Rory made reference to my odd rules for capitalization. As many folks know, my name does not have capital letters in it. When i was going through the process of changing my last name (and cementing the non-capitalization of my name), i did a lot of thinking about rules around capitalization in general. It always bothered me that “I” was a special case in english. Of course, i find it inherently indicative of the culture that we live in.

Well, it bothered me enough that i decided that i didn’t need any capital letters when i refer to myself. Not only is my name not capitalized, but i’m not that special. Plus, one of the main reasons to capitalize the letter was to typographically indicate it in a culture where everything was handwritten. In computer-land, it’s easy enough to see it separate from the rest. Of course, i still believe in capitalizing certain things – those of importance and letters at the beginning of a sentence to indicate that a new sentence is about to begin. Wouldn’t it be a bit funny though to start capitalizing You since i definitely believe that You is more important than i. Tehehe.

I will refrain.

Fact of the matter though is that my capitalization rules are just part of my quirks (except for that associated with my name, which are due to my mom’s quirks).

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9 comments to my capitalization rules

  • I suspected that your lower-case “i” might have had something to do with the implied self-importance of the whole thing.

    Now, though, I want to know when this upper-case “I” thing started, and what the motivation was.

    I mean, when did people start writing “I” in upper-case? In what other languages is this done? Whose idea was it, anyway?

    And, why is it only I? Why don’t we also go ahead with “Me” as long as we’re going to make the effort?

    I seriously want to know now.

    Hm.

  • Well said! I applaud you for a great explanation and an excellent website.

  • Andrew Cone

    Below is a link to the first message in a series of threads regarding capitalization on the “Ask A Linguist” list. I thought it might particularly interest the regular readers of danah’s blog. Enjoy, everybody.

    http://www.linguistlist.org/~ask-ling/archive-most-recent/msg03071.html

  • Thanks, Andrew, that’s an interesting list of responses. As others pointed out in that discussion, in German, all nouns are capitalized. In many other languages much fewer words are capitalized than in German or English.

    To respond to danah’s suggestion of capitalizing “you”, I can offer an example of what’s done in Hungarian (and probably other languages). In Hungarian, the formal version of “you” is capitalized out of respect. The whole point of formal language (as opposed to informal such as “tu” in French vs “vous” in French) is to be more respectful in some way, I guess. Some people do argue that the whole informal/formal distinction is tedious. Although I’m not about to suggest it’s useless (I haven’t thought about it enough to suggest that), it is a bit bothersome. It can lead to too many uncomfortable social situations when you’re not sure which to use.

    Okay, but I’ve gone a bit off-topic here. Point is, in Hungarian, very few things are capitalized (e.g. names of people, names of countries/cities), but little else.

    Also off-topic but a linguistic issue perhaps of interest: Hungarian doesn’t have gendered pronouns, there is no he vs she. I think that’s interesting. (I’m afraid it’s still a sexist society.)

  • the history of the letter ‘C’

    > My five year old son asks: > Why did they invent the letter C, when it makes the sounds of K and S? It sure does make it tough to play “I Spy.” In seeking an answer to this…

  • jennfier

    This is great. Thanks Andrew for the link. I am going to use the history as part of my capitalization lesson for my 8th graders tomorrow.

  • L. Hill

    When I was kid, my teacher told the class that a person capitalizes the letter “I” because “You are all special.” I raised my hand and questioned her: “Why don’t we capitalize the “M” in “Me” then?” She told me to close my mouth.

  • Kasey

    Today, our teach asked us to find out info on capitalization and I was to find out the rules so I could teach the class and I did so. And I know that you capitalize the first letter in a person and/or place’s name. And the beginning of a sentence is a capital letter. Thax lol. peace

  • Kasey

    Today, our teach asked us to find out info on capitalization and I was to find out the rules so I could teach the class and I did so. And I know that you capitalize the first letter in a person and/or place’s name. And the beginning of a sentence is a capital letter. Thax lol. peace