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A capitonym is a word that changes its meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) when it is capitalized; the capitalization usually applies due to one form being a proper noun or eponym.[1] It is a portmanteau of the word capital with the suffix -onym. A capitonym is a form of homograph and – when the two forms are pronounced differently – also of heteronym. In situations where both words should be capitalized (such as the beginning of a sentence), there will be nothing to distinguish between them except the context in which they are used.

Although some pairs, such as march and March, are completely unrelated, in other cases, such as august and catholic, the capitalized form is a name that is etymologically related to the uncapitalized form. For example, August derives from the name of Imperator Augustus, who named himself after the word augustus, whence English august came. Likewise, both Catholic and catholic derive from a Greek adjective meaning "universal".

Capital letters may be used to differentiate between a set of objects, and a particular example of that object. For instance in Astronomical terminology a distinction may be drawn between a moon, any natural satellite, and the Moon, to be specific the natural satellite of Earth. Likewise, Sun with a capital may be used to emphasise that the sun of Earth is under discussion.

In English[edit]

Philosophical, religious, and political terms[edit]

A particular example of where capitonyms are prominent is in terminology relating to philosophy, religion, and politics. Capitalized words are often used to differentiate a philosophical concept from how the concept is referred to in everyday life, or to demonstrate respect for an entity or institution.

It is common practice to capitalize the pronouns referring to the Abrahamic God (He, Him, His, etc.)[2][3] and many versions of the Bible, such as the NKJV, therefore do so.[4][5] In this tradition, possessive pronouns are also capitalized if one is quoting God; "My" and "Mine" are capitalized, which should not be done when a human speaks.[6] The pronouns "You", "Your", and "Yours" are also sometimes capitalized in reference to God.[7]

Words for transcendent ideas in the Platonic sense are often capitalized, especially when used in a religious context. Examples include "Good", "Beauty", "Truth" or "the One".[8]

The word "god" is capitalized to "God" when referring to the single deity of monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Other distinctions made include church (meaning a building) and Church (meaning an organization or group of people), and the liturgical Mass, versus the physical mass.

As political parties are often named after philosophies, a capital letter is used to differentiate between a supporter of the philosophy, and a supporter of the party, for instance Liberal, a supporter of any Liberal Party, and liberal, a supporter of the philosophy of liberalism. The Liberal Party of Australia and Liberal Party of Canada are not philosophically liberal; thus, in these countries, adherents of liberalism are sometimes said to be "small-l liberals" to differentiate.[9] Similar examples are conservative/Conservative, democrat/Democrat, libertarian/Libertarian, republican/Republican, socialist/Socialist, and a supporter of labour/Labour.

List of capitonyms in English[edit]

The following list includes only "dictionary words". Personal names (Mark/mark), place-names (China/china), company names (Fiat/fiat), names of publications (Time/time) etc. are all excluded as too numerous to list. Adjectives derived from placenames (e.g. Polish/polish) are allowed. Pairs in which one word is simply a secondary meaning of the other – e.g. Masonry (secret society), which is in essence a peculiar use of the word masonry (wall building) – are omitted.

Capitalised word Lowercase word Notes
Alpine: of or relating to the Alps alpine: relating to high mountains; living or growing in high mountains; an alpine plant
Arabic: of or relating to the Arabic language or Arabic literature arabic: (gum) Arabic, also called gum acacia, a food ingredient
Ares: god of war ares: plural of are, a metric unit of area Different pronunciations
August: the eighth month of the year august: majestic or venerable Different pronunciations
Bologna: A city in Italy bologna: a processed meat product similar to mortadella Different pronunciations. Meat product is also spelled "baloney".
Cancer: a constellation and astrological sign, or a genus of crab cancer: a class of diseases
Canton: capital of Ohio canton: a part of a flag
Champagne: Champagne, France champagne: a type of sparkling wine named after the location in France
China: a nation in East Asia china: a form of porcelain dishware
Colosseum: the Roman Colosseum colosseum: a stadium or similar venue Many other spellings
Cuban: from Cuba cuban: relating to cubes, as in cuban prime (rare technical use)
Dad: Referring to one's father dad: Referring to no specific father
Dalmatian: of Dalmatia dalmatian: a dalmatian dog
Divine: relating to God divine: to discover by intuition or insight; to locate water, minerals, etc. In lower case, the word can take either meaning
Depression: Referring to the Great Depression depression: A psychological state; a low-lying area
Earth: the planet Earth earth: soil, (by USA usage) dirt
Gallic: relating to France or to the ancient territory of Gaul gallic: relating to galls (abnormal plant growths) or gallic acid
German: from Germany german: closely related (mostly obsolete)
God: The supreme spiritual being of all Abrahamic religions god: any spiritual deity
Hamlet: A play by William Shakespeare, or the play's protagonist hamlet: a small town
Him/His: referring to Jesus Christ him/his: simple pronouns
Ionic: relating to Ionia or to a style of classical architecture ionic: relating to (chemical) ions
Jack: A common first name in English-speaking countries. jack: A device used to lift heavy objects, or a child's toy. Also the male name of a donkey.
Japan: A country in East Asia japan: A form of lacquerware
Jenny: A common female first name in English-speaking countries. jenny: a female donkey
Jersey: A British territory jersey: the top part of a sports uniform
Labrador: part of a province in Canada labrador: a labrador retriever
Lent: the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter lent: past tense and participle of to lend
Lord: referring to God or Jesus Christ lord: a monarch or ruler
March: the third month of the year march: to walk briskly and rhythmically
Mass: a liturgical function mass: a physical property of matter
May: the fifth month of the year may: modal verb
Mercury: the messenger god of Roman mythology mercury: a substance also known as quicksilver
Mom: Referring to one's mother mom: Referring to no specific mother
Mosaic: pertaining to Moses mosaic: a kind of decoration
Muse: One of the nine Greek goddesses involved with the arts, music, poetry, etc. muse: A person who serves as inspiration for artistic endeavours; also, to ponder reflectively over.
Newfoundland: part of a province in Canada newfoundland: a newfoundland dog
Pole: a Polish person pole: a long thin cylindrical object; various other meanings
Polish: /ˈplɪʃ/ from Poland polish: /ˈpɒlɪʃ/ to create a shiny surface by rubbing ; a compound used in that process Different pronunciations
Saint Bernard: Saint Bernard, a saint in Catholicism saint bernard: a saint bernard dog
Scot: a native of Scotland scot: a payment, charge, assessment, or tax
Scotch: from or relating to Scotland, or a form of whisky scotch: to put an end to (especially rumours)
Siamese: From Siam (now Thailand) siamese: a siamese cat Breed is also known as a Thai cat
Turkey: the country of Turkey turkey: a species of bird, Meleagris gallopavo
Tyre: A location near Ancient Greece tyre: a part of a car's wheel British spelling
Welsh: from or relating to Wales welsh: to renege (on an agreement) The verb welsh (also spelled welch) is of unknown etymology but is often described as deriving from the adjective Welsh and consequently perceived as insulting to people from Wales, although there is no direct evidence of the connection, nor any popular perception that people from Wales do not comply with agreements

Example in poetry[edit]

The following poem from Richard Lederer's The Word Circus[1] is an example of the use of capitonyms:

Job's Job
In August, an august patriarch
Was reading an ad in Reading, Mass.
Long-suffering Job secured a job
To polish piles of Polish brass.

Other languages[edit]

In other languages there are more, or fewer, of these pairs depending on that language's capitalization rules. For example, in German, where all nouns are capitalized, there are many pairs such as Laut (sound) ~ laut (loud) or Morgen (morning) ~ morgen (tomorrow). In contrast, in Italian, as well as Spanish, very few words (except proper names) are capitalized, so there are extremely few, if any, such pairs. An example in Spanish is Lima (city) ~ lima file (tool) or lime (fruit).


  1. ^ a b Lederer, Richard (1998). The Word Circus. Merriam-Webster. p. 23. ISBN 0877793549. Retrieved 23 December 2015. 
  2. ^ Shewan, Ed (2003). Applications of Grammar: Principles of Effective Communication. Liberty Press. p. 112. ISBN 1930367287. 
  3. ^ Elwell, Celia (1996). Practical Legal Writing for Legal Assistants. Cengage Learning. p. 71. ISBN 0314061150. 
  4. ^ The Bible translator: Volumes 43-45. United Bible Societies. 1992. p. 226. 
  5. ^ Cabal, Ted (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible. B&H Publishing Group. pp. xix. ISBN 1586404466. 
  6. ^ The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing. Dundurn. 1997. p. 77. ISBN 1550022768. 
  7. ^ The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. 2004. p. 8. ISBN 1592760945. 
  8. ^ The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). 2010. 8.93. ISBN 978-0-226-10420-1. 
  9. ^ Charles Richardson (27 May 2010). "How the Liberal Party left Malcolm Fraser behind". Crikey. Retrieved 2010-12-30. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitonym — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.

3 news items


Tue, 10 Jul 2012 09:50:16 -0700

As for the 'We the People' thingie...that 'P' was capitalized for a reason (it's called a capitonym), and many of the authors weren't exactly thinking of yours or my interests I'm afraid. There were some back then though that truly DID have our best ...

GeekDad (blog)

GeekDad (blog)
Wed, 04 Sep 2013 03:07:30 -0700

Nora_restaurant We have been eating dinner out a lot lately, due to an in-progress kitchen remodel. During one such culinary expedition, Nora mentioned that she wanted to help my wife Allison make her delicious, healthy brownies by grating zucchini ...

தி இந்து

தி இந்து
Tue, 10 Mar 2015 01:03:45 -0700

இதுபோன்ற வார்த்தைகளை ஆங்கிலத்தில் Capitonym என்பார்கள். அதாவது முதல் எழுத்தை Capital ஆக மாற்றிவிட்டால் அந்த வார்த்தையின் அர்த்தம் ...

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