On 17 June, 2010, advised by its identity consultant, Belgium’s postal service De Post renamed itself bpost. That’s right, bpost, not Bpost and not even bPost. In my Review I added the following aside:
“Bpost (and Interbrand) seem to expect us to treat its new name, in text, as bpost rather than Bpost. I don’t believe this is either realistic or desirable. It works well in the wordmark, but wordmarks are best seen as visual rather than verbal. With good reason, proper names in text should be capitalized — and will be, by The New York Times and many others, including Identityworks. Trying to enforce a lower-case ‘b’ ensures only that the name will be inconsistently treated, an identity-weakening condition. But more importantly, ‘bpost’ will forever distract and confuse readers, while trivializing Bpost in stature.”
Having cited The New York Times, I thought I’d better confirm. Here is what Philip B. Corbett, Associate Managing Editor for Standards, has to say:
“Our practice has usually been to avoid rendering company names all lowercase. We think it looks awkward and distracting, and worse yet, is likely to confuse readers who might not realize they’re seeing a proper noun.
“In general, we try to defer to the preferences of companies, organizations and individuals on rendering their names. We accept eccentric capitalization to some degree — eBay, iPad, PepsiCo.
“But there are limits, based on our desire for clarity and consistency and to avoid distracting or ugly typographical jumbles. For instance, we generally avoid uppercasing acronyms of more than four letters, which would jump off the page, especially in headlines — so we write Nascar and Unicef, not NASCAR and UNICEF. We try to avoid fanciful punctuation marks in names — so it’s Yahoo, not Yahoo!.
“And as I said, no all-lowercase names.”
So NASA’s okay, but not NASCAR. This four-letter limit on acronyms is new to me; it makes sense, and we should all appreciate The Times‘ distaste for “ugly typographical jumbles.”
We can all understand a client’s or a consultant’s need to look and feel creatively different. But as users of the name and as readers, we need not accept idiosyncratic capitalization when it burdens us (as I believe it always does). That includes adidas, and smart GMBH. Like all proper names, corporate names should be treated in text with initial cap, period.