Ask Our Editors: Brand Names

May 21, 2019

Ask Our Editors: Brand Names

Q: What's the word on brand names, company names, products, and the like that are technically written in all caps, such as CHEETOS, LEGO, or HISTORY [channel]? These seem like such a nightmare visually ... I usually just initial cap them for readability, but is there more background information on such trademarked names you could share with us? Thanks!

A: The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t offer a ton of instruction on brand names. There is a ruling on names that appear in all lowercase letters (you should initial cap them for readability; that is, write "Adidas" instead of "adidas"). And there is a ruling on names that contain internal caps, such as "iPad" (retain that style even at the start of a sentence).

There's also the easily parodied suggestion to use generic terms rather than brand or trademarked names. But substituting “image-editing software” for “Photoshop” or “heat-resistant glassware” for “Pyrex” (as Chicago so kindly suggests) seems, well, GOOFY.

To confound things further, CMoS's sixteenth edition (section 8.68) says it’s OK to initial cap corporate names, while the seventeenth edition (section 8.69) says we should "respect" a company's preferences for all caps. In short—the sixteenth advises "Rand Corporation," and the seventeenth advises "RAND Corporation."

What we recommend is that you check the company’s website—especially copyright info and press releases—to see how they treat their name in general contexts. For example, Lego always treats the brand as "LEGO" in their press releases, but Frito-Lay spells "Cheetos" with an initial capital only. So the correct styles would be "LEGO" and "Cheetos." (Or you could follow the generic-term rule and change "LEGOs" to "colorful plastic bricks that hurt like hell when you step on them.")

It's also important to keep genre in mind. Nonfiction titles, especially business books or books that reference corporate materials in footnotes or endnotes, will require more diligence (and possibly even the use of trademark symbols). But it seems a little silly (and shouty) for a detective in a potboiler to say, "It appears our perp spent a few years working at RAND Corporation."


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