Should you ever capitalize nicknames, terms of endearment, or common nouns for relatives?

Although they are not proper names by definition, some words—not all—that specifically replace the person’s formal name are capitalized. Many people get confused over the rules.

The following guidelines and examples offer clarification on which kinds of names to capitalize and when.

A nickname—a moniker that one or many people regularly use (sometimes for life) in place of an individual’s given name—is capitalized.

• When you see Tiger, please remind him to use his given name on the job application.
• Dear Doc, I hope you’ll be pleased with the committee’s desire to name the new facility the Doc Peterson Clinic. No one in town thinks of you as Marcus.
• Joey raised his hand and asked, “Mrs. Stephens, would you please call me Chip?”
• We are pleased to announce that the Volunteer of the Year is Buddy Smith.

Nouns for Relatives
Any common noun for a relative—mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, etc.—is capitalized when the familial name is interchangeable with an individual’s formal name.

• Please tell Mom [Stephanie] that I am too busy studying to break for dinner.
• Dad [George], I was hoping you’d be home to help me with my history project.
• I can’t wait to share the story Grandma [Emily] just told me about her parents.
• Watch how fast Grandpa [Victor] swims to the opposite side of the lake.

The same nouns are not capitalized when they only identity the relationship.

• I need to tell my mom that I’ll be studying at the library tonight.
• If your dad is a history professor, he might enjoy the museum’s latest exhibit.
• Did your grandma tell you that fascinating story about her parents?
• John’s grandpa can swim to the opposite side of the lake in eight minutes.
• The thoughtful teacher made sure the visiting grandmother had a place at the table next to her grandson in the lunchroom.

Terms of Endearment
Terms of endearment, the affectionate words and phrases chosen to describe people, are not capitalized unless their placement in a sentence or title dictates otherwise.

• “Sweet baby,” the exhausted mother said, “please be a good girl for Grandma when she stays with you tonight.”
• Say you’ll marry me, sweetheart.
• I kept the receipt, darling, if you don’t love the enclosed bracelet.
• “My precious child,” the dying father wrote, “I’ll always be your guardian angel.”
• If I hear my ex calling his new girlfriend “sugar pie, honey bun” one more time, I’m going to gag.

Of course, dear reader, when using terms of endearment in your private messages, capitalization is a personal choice. The grammar police give a pass to the commercial greeting card companies that habitually break the rule, so go right ahead and refer to your love as Love (with a capital L).

My best to you,

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

Thoughts or questions? Please contact Sallie Boyles, owner of Write Lady Inc., to exchange ideas about effective communications and gain from professional writing and editing services. Receive monthly tips and insights by subscribing at