Place capital letters correctly on place names

Mountain landscape with river and forestGeographic names are the proper names of particular Earth features, places, and landmarks. The choice, form, spelling, and application of official place names for Federal usage are determined by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, explains the U.S. Geological Survey. (Foreign names are handled by the Foreign Names Committee of the Board.)

Precision is paramount when placing capital letters correctly on place names. Here are some handy rules of thumb regarding the capitalization of place names:

In general, all words considered part of a proper geographic name are capitalized, including all adjectives and common nouns:

  • Alva B. Adams Tunnel
  • Big Hill
  • Big Hole Basin
  • Upper Sulphur Creek
  • West Side Pond
  • Mount Ranier

Exceptions to the rule of capitalization include articles and prepositions within multiple-word names:

  • Alto de la Cruz Posta de Roque
  • Red River of the North
  • Fond du Lac Rock of Ages
  • Gap in Knob Scarce of Fat Ridge
  • Lake of the Ozarks

Unless it is the first word in a sentence, the definite article preceding the specific name is not capitalized either when the generic part of a name (river, mountain, ocean) is included or when it is omitted:

  • the Potomac River; the Potomac
  • the Mojave Desert; the Mojave
  • the Atlantic Ocean; the Atlantic

Coined names of regions are capitalized:

  • the Far East
  • the North Atlantic States
  • the Gulf States
  • the Midwest
  • the Western Hemisphere
  • the Promised Land
  • the Temperate Zone

A descriptive term used to denote direction or position is not capitalized:

  • central Chile
  • southern California
  • western region of the U.S.
  • eastern seaboard

Proper names of geographical entities, such as regions, political divisions, populated places, localities, and physical features (including aquatic) are capitalized in the singular and lowercased in the plural:

  • the Potomac River; the Potomac and Hudson rivers
  • the Allegheny Mountains; the Allegheny and Rocky mountains

(Note that this rule differs by publisher and style manual; authors should check the convention used by the target publication.)

In scientific writing, it’s of “capital importance” to place capital letters correctly when using place names!


Rick of the Precision Science Editing blog teamPlace capital letters correctly on place names

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