Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club March 10, 2012 - 5:13pm

I'm not sure how to determine if something is a common noun. Remedial stuff, I know, but it's really bothering me. 

If you use a common noun in place of a name, does it become a proper noun and then need to be capitalized? What is the rule on this?


"Is everything okay, James?" Mary asked.

"Uh, yeah. Just a little headache, babe."

Does "babe" become capitalized since it's being used in the place of Mary?

Dave's picture
Dave from a city near you is reading constantly March 10, 2012 - 5:25pm

Good question Rae, I've never capitalized that way, but so far the google-fu says it is proper to capitalize.


Edit* Further reading indicates that if it's a nickname or pet name, yes.  If it's only being used as a term of endearment/casual use, then no, lower case.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 10, 2012 - 5:23pm

I've been sitting here trying to think of a concrete rule and I can't. I came close when I thought maybe it was if you could replace the word with a pronoun it was capitalized, but I'm not sure that fits in every case.

"Mary had a little lamb" could easily become "She had a little lamb."
But would you even say "Babe had a little lamb"? Wouldn't you have to say "my babe" or something like that?

I feel like that example proves my point... but I can't come up with any proof backing that.

In any case, I've never seen babe/baby/honey/sugar/cookie or any other pet-name capitalized, so there's that. I can tell you that you definitely don't capitalize it, but I can't tell you why.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 10, 2012 - 5:26pm

I didn't think to try Google. When I did, I got this:

Q: How and when should one capitalize pet names used in dialogue? Not Fluffy or Rover-type pet names, but things like: dear, honey, sweetie, dear lady, kind sir, baby, babe, etc.
A: According to The Chicago Manual of Style 15th Edition, which applies to book-length fiction and nonfiction, pet names are always lowercased. It gives this example: "Sorry, sweetheart."
This guideline goes against traditional wisdom, which says that if a term of endearment or pet name replaces a name, it should be capitalized.

Here's an example of what I was trying to say:

I wouldn't unless everyone calls them that, and its not merely a term of endearment.  (Example:  I wouldn't capitalize "baby" when Austin Powers says it, but I would capitalize "Baby" in "Dirty Dancing.")

Matt Attack's picture
Matt Attack from Richmond, Va. is reading As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner March 10, 2012 - 6:13pm

I don't think it is unless it is a title. 

Nikki Guerlain's picture
Nikki Guerlain from Portlandia is reading Necronomicon Book Three March 11, 2012 - 1:06am

Exactly, you don't capitalize it unless it's a title. If I called to my unicorn by cooing, "Come here, sweet cheeks!" I'm implying that this is not his name but a term of endearment whereas if I cooed, "Come here, Sweet Cheeks!" I'm implying that Sweet Cheeks is his actually name. Although if I coo to my unicorns Randy, Bob and David usually, "Come here, bitch" is what I use because that's how they like it.

Bryan Eskew's picture
Bryan Eskew from United States is reading a bunch of magazines that I need to catch up on March 11, 2012 - 10:26am

I would say if "babe" was a name replacement, then capitalize. For example, I would say "I went to see Mom the other day." I use the word "Mom", or it's derivative "Momma", exclusively instead of "Lisa," which is my mother's actual name. If you capitalize, you are alluding that James has bascially renamed Mary "Babe", and uses it almost exclusively in conversation.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. March 11, 2012 - 10:33am

Just saying the same thing as most people.  If it's a nickname, you capitalize.  If it's a term of endearment, you don't.  

If he ALWAYS calls her 'Babe', then that's a name.  If he's saying, "No baby, I'll never do it again.  Come back to Ike."  Then it's not a name.

So, in Raelyn's example, the use of capitalization depends on past and future history of the word:



"Is everything okay, James?" Mary asked.

"Uh, yeah. Just a little headache, babe."

The word babe would only be capitalized if it's the word James ALWAYS uses for his wife (even if it's just in their private conversations, whereas he might call her by her proper name in company).  If he's just saying babe like you would 'dude', then no capitalization.

Unless it's The Dude from The Big Lebowski.  Then it's capitalized.