#amwriting: kinship names and terms of endearment

misuse_grammar_consistently_memeI am in the final stages of getting a manuscript ready to send to my editor. As such, I am trying to make it as clean as I can so she won’t tear her hair out in frustration. One thing I am checking for consistency is proper capitalization of terms of endearment, such as “Sir,” or “Dad,” and “Mom.”

I discussed this topic a while back, but having read several books written by authors who clearly had no idea there are rules about terms of endearment and capitalization, it bears repeating.

The rules are basic and simple to remember:

For people who are related, if you are saying it directly to them in place of their name, capitalize it.

  • “I love you, Son.”

If you are mentioning them in conversation, don’t capitalize it.

  • “My son is wonderful.”

Terms of endearment can also

  • Be relatively impersonal.
  • Denote a friendship.
  • Be slightly patronizing in situations where the speakers are not friends.

If the speaker is not related to the person in question, do not capitalize it.

  • “I wouldn’t do that, son.”

Again, as in so many other aspects of the writing craft, context is everything. Consider the word “sir.” It is an honorific. Quoted from the Chicago Manual of Style:

Honorific titles and respectful forms of address are capitalized in any context with several exceptions:

  • sir
  • ma’am
  • my lord
  • my lady

You must also capitalize the words “sir” and/or “madam” when beginning a letter or an email.

  • Dear Sir or Madam

Where king/queen, Lord, or Sir is used as part of someone’s name, it is always capitalized, as are these honorifics:

  • King Karl, and Wanda, the Queen of Meatballs
  • the Empress Sophia
  • Lord Albert Beaucleigh; Lady Mary Cheltenham
  • Sir Julian De Portiers

Where king/queen is employed in the context of a general reference it is lowercased:

  • “Good grief,” said the king.

But should one capitalize the word “sir” when it’s used in dialogue? Which of the following would be correct? “Yes sir.” OR “Yes Sir.”

If the reply is to a respected person in general, it is written with no capital, as it’s not a formal name. But you do need a comma just you would with a formal name:

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes, George.”

The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style_16th_editionAgain, consider the context. When writing dialogue: if your speaking character is in the military and the person he/she is addressing has a military rank above them, and is speaking in their military capacity you must capitalize it.

The exception to this rule is if a younger person of lesser rank is talking to an older person of higher rank in an informal setting. At that point, the younger person is simply speaking respectfully to an older person, and “sir” does not need to be capitalized.

For a more in-depth exploration of that subject see my post of March 14, 2016: son and sir: to capitalize or not?


For further information, see The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition,  issued September 2010,  section 8.32

Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guidehttp://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

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