Monday, March 19, 2012

moon or Moon?

Today someone from the Junior Textbook Office section of our new Department for Research and Development asked me to edit a test section from a textbook she's working on. While editing, I ran across a sentence that had the word 'moon' capitalized twice. I changed them both to lowercase. But then I stopped myself and wondered, "Is moon capitalized or lowercase?" I really didn't know so I turned to the trusty Google to help me out. The first article Google recommended for my search term 'moon capitalized or lowercase' was from the Air and Space Smithsonian.

Wow, if I was unsure before, I was even more confused after reading the article. To learn that my beloved AP Stylebook could be wrong in this matter was quite shocking. I decided to check it for myself (so happy I found a copy of the Stylebook while packing up our old office). These entries are taken word for word from the 2008 edition (although I left out any example sentences).

   moon Lowercase. See
heavenly bodies.

   sun Lowercase. See
heavenly bodies.

   heavenly bodies Capitalize
the proper names of planets,
stars, constellations, etc.: Mars,
Arcturus, the Big Dipper, Aries.
See earth.
   For comets, capitalize only the
proper noun element of the name:
Halley's comet.
   Lowercase sun and moon, but
capitalize them if their Greek or
Latin names are used: Helios, Luna.
   Capitalize nouns and adjectives
derived from the proper names of
planets: Martian, Venusian, but
lowercase adjectives derived from
other heavenly bodies: solar, lunar.

   earth Generally lowercase;
capitalize when used as the
proper name of the planet.
See planets.

   planets Capitalize the proper
names of the planets: Jupiter, Mars,
Mercury, Neptune, Saturn, Uranus,
Venus. (Pluto was redefined as a
dwarf planet by the International
Astronomical Union in 2006.)
   Capitalize Earth when used as
the proper name of our planet.
   Capitalize nouns and adjectives
derived from the proper names
of planets and other heavenly
bodies: Martian, Venusian. But
lowercase adjectives derived from
other heavenly bodies: solar, lunar.
   See earth and heavenly bodies.

Then I checked out one more online source, Daily Writing Tips' article "How to Treat Geological and Astronomical Terms." I appreciated their approach. It sounded pretty logical and made sense.

So, what do you think? Should we refer to the words 'sun' and 'moon' as proper nouns and capitalize them accordingly? Or should we leave things as they are and continue to refer to them as common nouns? I haven't completed made up my mind about the issue yet, but I'm leaning more toward the capitalization side. As the article says, don't the Germanic names deserve the same respect the Latin names enjoy?

PS - And on a slightly different vein, I LOVE the story in the Air and Space Smithsonian article about Winston Churchill being criticized for ending sentences with prepositions. Ugh, that's probably one of my least-favourite English rules. I see no problem ending sentences with prepositions and knowingly do it quite regularly. Sorry English majors...but really, I'm not really that sorry.


  1. In the same way as the Earth is a proper noun/the name for the planet we live on, the Moon is a proper noun/the name for our Moon that orbits us, and by capitalizing it, it is differentiated from other moons orbiting other planets. When we talk of the Sun and are referring to our Sun, it should be capitalized, as it is a proper noun/name in just the same way as Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are proper nouns/names. There are other suns (meant generally) elsewhere, and these would therefore not be capitalized.

  2. that makes sense.
    good to know.