Proper Names

Q. Hello! I am wondering about the capitalization of trademarks such as “Dad’s root beer” and “Mack trucks,” where the name includes what I consider to be a generic description. My instinct is to make terms such as “root beer” and “trucks” lowercase, but I’m wondering if that’s correct. The companies’ full names in this case are Mack Trucks Inc. and the Dad’s Root Beer Company LLC. Thanks!

A. We agree with your instinct, though it’s never wrong to capitalize the generic term if the company or brand does so in its own materials (as on a company website). With Dad’s Root Beer, the advantages of the extra capital letters are obvious; without sufficient context, “Dad’s root beer” could easily be mistaken for root beer belonging to somebody’s father. Ambiguity is less likely with Mack trucks, and the lowercase t will allow you to compare Mack trucks to, for example, Ford trucks without appearing to be inconsistent.

Another example like Dad’s Root Beer would be Scotch Tape. A capital T could help readers understand that you’re not merely referring to tape from Scotland. 3M’s trademark, however, extends only to the name “Scotch”—as seen in the placement of the registered trademark symbol in “Scotch® Brand Tapes” at the company’s website. Unambiguous examples would include Kleenex tissues and Nike shoes. Whatever you choose, be consistent, and prefer lowercase for a generic term like “root beer” used alone.