English Proper Nouns

English Proper NounsWhat differs proper nouns from common. Name metonymy.


A proper noun (or name) is a specific if not unique item (especially person/organization/place/thing) unlike a common noun denoting their class. Proper nouns are not determined by pronouns. Names with common nouns (except educational institutions) are determined by the definite article.

Cambridge University

the British Museum


Proper nouns name:

  • animates (people, titles, pets)

Elvis Presley, Prince of Wales, Hatiko

  • toponyms with derivatives (buildings, monuments, streets, squares, rooms, settlements, areas, mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, gulfs, straits, seas, oceans, planets, constellations, galaxies)

the White House, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Red Square, Room 100, Dublin, California, the Alps, the River Nike, Lake Ontario, the Mexican Gulf, the English Channel, the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, Mars, Sirius, the Milky Way

  • institutions (clubs, bands, cafes, restaurants, schools, colleges, universities, companies, brands, vehicles)

Detroit Red Wings, U2, Zorba’s, McDonald’s, Marvelwood, Trinity College, Stanford University, (the) Ford (Motor Company), Windows XP Professional, Honda Civic

  • events (awards, competitions, shows, plays)

Oscar, the Stanley Cup, the Consumer Electronics Show, Chicago

  • documents (laws, albums, books, movies)

the Freedom of Information Act, Thriller, Lord of the Rings, Avatar


  • periods (months, days, holidays, eras)

May, Friday, Xmas, the Stone Age

  • religions (deities, scriptures)

Islam, the Bible


Names are always capitalized. Newspapers historically capitalize the within their names.

London is the capital of the United Kingdom.

The Guardian is a popular British newspaper.

Sometimes last name parts after Mac (but never Mc/M’) aren’t capitalized. There is no rule, just learning the names.

Prime Minister J. R. MacDonald, author George Macdonald.

A spelling rule for European particles like de/du/d’/den/der/des/la/le/l’/ten/ter/van/von is capitalizing parts after particles and capitalizing particles if last names with them are used by themselves.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Cornelia ten Boom, Miss Ten Boom


Some names can become common nouns to denote their unique class. For example, Apple is the computer corporation selling many Apples (plurality). Each buyer is a user of an Apple (singularity) and some Apples are newer than others (partitivity). Such usage is informally oral. Here it’s metonymy – transferring a company name to its products (an Apple computer → an Apple, Apple computers → Apples).