Capitalisation of titles and proper names in Afrikaans and English: How does it work?

Posted on 12/06/2017 · Posted in Dialogos, Our languages, Writing tips

Often people are unsure about the capitalisation of titles in Afrikaans and English. Should it be Prof De Villiers or prof De Villiers? An added headache is the capitalisation of proper names consisting of different parts (a surname such as De Villiers is a point in case) – do the same rules apply in Afrikaans and English?

In English, titles (such as Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr, Prof or Rev) are always capitalised: hence Prof De Villiers. Afrikaans, however, requires lowercase for titles; therefore one should write prof De Villiers in a running sentence, although a title occurring at the beginning a sentence will of course be capitalised.

Fortunately the rule on proper names consisting of more than one part is the same in English and Afrikaans. Imagine that it’s all about a place holder, really, in the guise of either an initial or a first name. If there is a place holder, the first part of the surname needn’t stand tall; it is allowed to ‘relax’ a little and instead start with a lowercase letter – consider for example the ‘de’ in Anja de Jager, or Prof W de Villiers. If no placeholder exists, the first part of the surname needs to man up and be capitalised, for example ‘In her speech De Jager said…’, or Prof De Villiers. It doesn’t matter whether a title precedes the surname, and the same principle holds for proper names consisting of more than two parts, such as De la Rey – whether used as first name or surname. For more examples and information on this, have a look at pages 29 to 32 in the Language Centre’s Style Guide (available here).

Below you’ll find an infographic summarising these tips. Print it and put it up somewhere as a reminder!