How to capitalize Ipad, Iphone, and Ebay?

Posted by Greten on 15 Feb 2020 under Thoughts

This post will be a rant on what's going on in that little space where the tech industry overlaps with language editing. The information you can pick up here might not be useful in your corporate career. Still, by writing this, I am hoping to meet like-minded individuals who are wary of the growing power of big corporations. Are you still with me? Good! Now let's start.

Perhaps you are wondering why in this blog, I spelled brand names such as Ios and Ipad with capital first letter and small second letter, when many of the style guides out there suggests... uhm no... but more like impose, that brand names should be spelled as how the company that owns the brand. Therefore, Ipad should be spelled as iPad because Apple Inc. said so, or that Ebay should be spelled as eBay because Ebay Inc. said so. Until a few years ago, I accepted this logic without question: it's a brand name, it's a trademark, do not change them. I even initially called this website iTitser back in 2013.

It was so easy to accept this "brand names should be spelled the way the owners want them" until you realize that it complicates so many things.

Capitalization is a rule of grammar, not a rule of spelling

F and f are the same letters. M and m are the same letter. If I spelled "flower" as "Flower", "floweR", or "fLoWeR", I am still spelling it correctly because I use the right letters in their proper order. The examples I provided may violate only the rules of grammar, and in the case of "Flower", it is still correct if the sentence starts with it. I can also spell "Manila" as "manila", "maniLa", or "mAnila" without committing spelling mistakes; I committed only a grammar mistake.

During the times of the Roman Empire, people write in all capital letters. Just look at the Arch of Trajan that was constructed sometime between 114 and 117 AD in honor of Emperor Trajan.

The arch of trajan is a concrete rectagular arch with semioblong hole underneath. It has murals made of different humanoid shapes on the sides and a flat rectagular area with writings in all uppercase on top.

Notice those script on top? They are all in capital letters.

Lowercase letters are invented later to make it easier for scribes to write faster. At first, there was no distinct rule of usage; the rule that proper nouns and first words of a sentence begin with capital letters started first as a tradition among the scribes. The scribes followed for hundreds of years before it was codified in the English language in the 18th century.

Since the rule, or rather the tradition, that proper nouns and the first word of a sentence start with a capital letter has been in effect for hundreds of years? Why are we allowing big corporations to just change the rules on whim?

If they can tell us to follow a different set of rules for their brand names, what's preventing them from coming up with sillier rules. For example, insisting that when their brand is mentioned as a subject of a sentence, it should be followed by "were" or "are" even if it is a singular noun?

Let us use Yahoo as another example. Its trademark name is Yahoo! but the rules of grammar state that exclamation mark is used in an expression of emotion. I never heard anyone saying it is incorrect to spell Yahoo without an exclamation mark if they are giving a statement or asking a question. Just as much we are free to spell Yahoo without an exclamation mark, we are also free to spell the tablet brand as Ipad and the online bidding store as Ebay.

Issue with starting a sentence

When I was searching the internet on what people think of how Iphone, Ipad, and Ebay should be capitalized, many had readily accepted this new rule that we have to follow "brand" or "trademark" spelling. However, the debate moved to another level: how do you capitalized these proper nouns if found at the beginning of a sentence?

According to AP (Associated Press) Stylebook, capitalize both the first and the second letter.

"IPad is a cool gadget."

According to Chicago Style Manual, retain the brand owner's preferred capitalization even if it is the start of the sentence.

"iPad is a cool gadget."

The APA (American Psychiatric Association) Style manual requires a more complicated solution; rewrite the sentence, so the brand is not the first word of the sentence.

"The iPad is a cool gadget."

Some may argue that iPad and eBay are just examples of camel case, similar to brand names PowerPoint and YouTube. Camel cases are made of separate words that, while there's no space between the words, each word starts with a capital letter. Uppercase letters make it easy to see where the words begin and end.

However, PowerPoint and Youtube do not create any capitalization dilemma. Put them anywhere in a sentence, and they are capitalized in the same way, just like any other pronoun. AP, Chicago, APA, and other style guides would not need to provide different opinions.

I have a more straightforward solution. Let's just ignore the preference of brand owners and spell the brands the more traditional way: Ipad, Iphone, and Ebay. A proper noun starts with a capital letter.

We're teaching children to be more obedient to big corporations

How is capitalization taught in grade school?

When I was growing up, we do not have these weird brand capitalizations. The rule is simple: capitalize proper nouns and the beginning of the sentences. As mentioned earlier, this rule arose from the tradition of the scribes for hundreds of years.

Then, just less than three decades ago, some eccentric employees in some company came up with weird capitalization of their brand name, a proper noun, and consistently spelled it that way. For some reason, publications outside the company started copying the bizarre capitalization.

Why should someone from a big company get to decide to alter rules that we've been following for hundreds of years?

If you are a language teacher, how are you going to teach your students about proper capitalizations? Would it be something like, "Capitalize the first letter of the first word of a sentence. Capitalize the first letter of a proper noun. However, if a big corporation wants their proper nouns to be spelled with the lowercase first letter and uppercase second, third, or some other letter, follow them."?

There are individuals within and outside the education sector, who believes that the entire educational system was built with the primary purpose of producing efficient factory workers. I personally do not agree with this hypothesis, although I can name some educational institutions in which the focus is on "employability" to big corporations. Teaching kids to adhere to corporate-preferred capitalization contributes to the development of kids into good employable citizens, a.k.a. the modern factory workers. Now, those who argue that the entire educational system was built to develop efficient factory workers have more pieces of evidence to support their hypothesis.

Fortunately, I get to talk to a few English teachers on how they teach capitalization when it comes to proper nouns like Ipad and Ebay. Their answer: they just don't use these proper nouns as examples.

Language evolves

Indeed, language evolves, but you are under no obligation to use just any innovation that anyone else introduced. No one outside of feminist circles adopted the "womyn" spelling of "woman". If you are not a feminist and just an ordinary folk who is trying to make the best out of this world, you don't have to embrace their made-up neologism like "mansplaining", "manspreading", and "hepeating".

If you are not working for Apple, you are under no obligation to adopt iPhone, iPad, iOs, and other unusual capitalization. If you're not working for Ebay, there's nothing for you to gain to spell it as eBay.

Adopt unusual capitalization to protect your self-interest

In most situations, there is really no reason for you to adopt unusual and eccentric capitalizations.

  • You can spell E. E. Cummings instead of e. e. cummings
  • You can spell K. D. Lang as instead of k. d. lang

And what can they or their handlers do? Nothing!

If we started entertaining unusual capitalizations just to entertain the eccentricities of certain individuals, then where do we stop? Who else will demand special treatment? Someone else will say "spell my name with alternating upper and lowercase" or "spell my name with both ™ and ® symbols at the end".

The only real reason why you have to entertain unusual capitalization demand is if it's in your best interest to do so.

AP Styleguide has a reason for accepting the second-letter capitalization of iPad, iPhone, and other Apple products; their main users are the media outlets. Media outlet earns or may earn from advertisements of Apple products, and so it is in their best interest to remain on the good side of Apple.

The primary users of Chicago Style are educational publishers: textbooks and elearning platforms. Apple has interest and power over the elearning industry; remember that Apple singlehandedly ended the reign of Flash. It's no wonder that the educational publishers have a certain level of fear to Apple. Thus it is also in their best interest to remain on the good side of Apple.

However, if you are a regular everyday folk who has no interest in remaining on the good side of Apple, Ebay, K. D. Lang, or E. E. Cummings, then you are free whether you want to adopt their unusual capitalization convention or follow the traditional rule "Proper nouns and words at the start of sentences are in uppercase."

What is important is that whatever capitalization you choose, stick to it. Consider it as your personal style guide. If you spelled Ipad or iPad, be sure to capitalize the word consistently until the end of your essay, article, book, module, or presentation. The exception of course, if you are comparing different capitalization rules such as this entry,


To summarize my points:

  • Capitalization is a matter of spelling, not a matter of grammar. As long as you have the correct letters in the correct sequence, you are spelling correctly. Ipad, iPad, ipad, IPad, and IPAD are all correct spellings.
  • The traditional spelling rule is that proper nouns and first words of sentences start with an uppercase letter. Anything else are just eccentricities that you are free whether to entertain or not.
  • If you teach little children that following the eccentricities of big corporations is the right thing to do and not just a matter of preference, we will end up raising a generation that is obedient to corporate whims.
  • It is advisable to follow unusual capitalization rules if it is in your best interest to remain on the good side of those insisting those rules.
  • Select what capitalization rule you will follow and stick to it.


Image Credits

Last updated on 15 Feb 2020.

Share your thoughts

* Required. Your email will never be displayed in public.

Instructional design and educational technology for effective learning