The past two weeks, I’ve been working on edits of two historical novels, one a fantasy, the other a straight historical, but both set in similar medieval worlds. Ones with lords and ladies, kings and queens. So I thought this week, I’d talk about capitalization, especially as it concerns terms of address. My reference work of choice for this – as for almost everything – is the Chicago Manual of Style. I highly recommend this work if you want to do any kind of fictional writing.
So as to not confuse you – or myself – I am going to talk specifically about English (be they American, British, Canadian, etc.) entities and not Asian or Middle Eastern. So… here you go.
When talking about a title or office such as government, military, religious or professional persons, the title is capitalized only when used with a name or are used as a name, but are lower case when used generically:
President Lincoln; the president: President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. The president presented a great speech.
General Grant; the general: General Grant became president. Lee met with the general to discuss terms.
Pope John II; the pope: We got to see Pope John II in person. We saw the pope in person.
Queen Elizabeth; the queen: I saw Queen Elizabeth at her coronation. We saw the queen in the parade.
Congressman Jackson; the congressman: We saw Congressman Jackson at the dinner. We saw the congressman at the dinner.
Bishop Donnelly; the bishop
Reverend Michaels; the reverend
Professor Meltzer; the professor
Dean Boyer; the dean
and so on – you get the idea right? If it’s part of the name, it gets capitalized. If it’s not, it doesn’t. Some people get confused when there’s no name associated with the title, but it’s used as a name. For instance, in the following dialogue:
“What are your orders, General?”
In this case, the name is implied and it is capitalized You are using the title as the name. The same thing goes for family names.
“Hi Mom!” vs. I need to talk to my mom. (the first is used as her name, the second is not.)
I love my aunt Mary. vs. I believe Aunt Mary is the eldest of the sisters.
One other area of confusion is the use of “my lord” or “my lady” or other honorifics. Most of these are capitalize, but not all.
the First Lady
the Queen Mother
His (Her, Your) Majesty or Royal Highness
His (Her, Your) Excellency
where the confusion come in is the use of lower case in “my lord” and “my lady”, “sir” (as in Yes, sir), and “ma’am” (Yes, ma’am).
Clear as mud, right?