Proper Names

Q. What is the correct capitalization of “Zoom” and its derivatives when it refers to the essential meeting software that we are all using during the coronavirus pandemic? I’m certain that it is capitalized as a noun—e.g., “I have a Zoom conference at 3:00 p.m.” What about when it’s used as a verb—e.g., “People are zooming/Zooming into online classes all day long.” Thank you!

A. Zoom is a brand name, so you’re right, it gets a capital Z in both noun and attributive forms. (An attributive noun functions like an adjective, as in your “Zoom conference” example.) Capitalization is also appropriate for brand names that have become synonymous with a category, like Band-Aid, Coke, Hula-Hoop, Jet Ski, Xerox, and Zamboni. Those terms are all listed in Merriam-Webster as capitalized trademarks. And though it may seem normal to refer to a hula-hoop or a jet ski in casual prose or creative writing, it’s never wrong to capitalize a brand name.

Verbs are a different story. Some brands immediately enter the lexicon as verbs, and verbs like to be lowercase. Merriam-Webster’s entry for Google, which is limited to the verb form, lists lowercase and capitalized versions as equal variants: “google or Google,” “googled or Googled,” “googling or Googling,” and “googles or Googles.” Ditto Auto-Tune (“auto-tune or Auto-Tune,” etc.). The somewhat older verb “xerox” doesn’t even get a capitalized variant.

But unlike “xerox” or “google” or “auto-tune,” “zoom” has a day job as an ordinary verb. Even if it does enter the dictionary in its trademarked sense, it may be a good idea to retain the capital letter for the sake of clarity. For now at least, prefer “Zooming” over “zooming.”