When to Capitalize Popular Names of Places

Today’s grammar tip is brought to you by CMOS 8.47.

One thing I’ve noticed recently is that people like to capitalize words. I don’t know if this is a new thing, but it’s definitely a thing. Depending on whom you talk to, capitalization isn’t a make-or-break issue. JK Rowling, for example, capitalizes many words that don’t need to be capitalized, but you don’t see anyone making a fuss about it.

Still, I think it is important to be aware that there are certain rules about capitalization. After all, it’s only after you know the rules that you can really start to break them. Isn’t that how the saying goes?

One such example of a popular place that I recently came across was the Bible Belt. You’ve heard of it, right? Usually referred to as the middle of the United States, where there are a large number of conservatives and churches (some might add Republicans, but I’m not here to get political). Anyway, according to Chicago Manual of Style 8.47, the Bible Belt is a capitalized proper name. You can find a full list in the aforementioned section of CMOS.

The basic rule is thus: Popular names of places, or epithets, are usually capitalized. Quotation marks are not needed. So no: “the Bible Belt.” CMOS also makes it clear that these popular names should not be used in a context where they will not be understood by the general readership. So don’t write a book in Australia and start talking about the American Bible Belt. Your readers probably will not understand you, no offense to Australians.

Here are a few more examples:

the South Side
the Loop (in Chicago)
the Badlands
the Twin Cities

For a complete list, visit CMOS. The main thing to keep in mind is that if you’re writing about a popular place, it’s more than likely going to be capitalized. And don’t use quotes or capitalize The. That’s just tacky.

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3 thoughts on “When to Capitalize Popular Names of Places

  1. Pingback: Grammar Tip: Capitalizing the Seasons | Amanda Bumgarner

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