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How To Write Company Name In Essay

Brand identity is important to business, and having a brand name with impact is a big part of that. But when the name breaks the standard rules of English in its efforts to achieve that, it can present writers with a challenge, writes Cathy Relf.

In many cases, the company itself will take a pragmatic approach. For example, Twitter spells its name with a lower-case t in its logo, but upper case in text. We do the same at Emphasis. But what do you do if the company consistently describes itself in non-standard English?

Take insurance companies MORE TH>N and LV=, retail consultancy him! or the supermarket ASDA, for example. If you’re writing about ASDA and you need to refer to ASDA several times in a paragraph, the block capitals in the word ASDA can soon appear to shout at the reader and drown out the rest of the text on the page (like they do here). So should you prioritise the brand’s preferences or the readability of your documents?

If you don’t already have a house style and you’re starting from scratch, there are two broad approaches you can take.

If you decide to go with the second option, the rest of this article will take you through the areas you’ll need to consider. This may also be helpful if you already have a house style but it doesn’t tell you how to deal with the brand names mentioned above.

In each case, we’ve made a recommendation, but it is only that – you may decide differently.

Punctuation marks

Some brand names, such as Yahoo! Which? and him! include a punctuation mark, which can be problematic – and not only because Word automatically capitalises the following word, thinking that you must be starting a new sentence.

For a start, exclamation marks are generally frowned upon in formal writing, even when used correctly. So ending a sentence with ‘according to Yahoo!.’ looks doubly strange when combined with the extra punctuation. And an exclamation mark in the middle of a sentence, such as ‘Yahoo! has filed applications for two patents’, can feel disruptive.

Many publications (the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the BBC) choose to omit the exclamation mark and simply write Yahoo. Others (the Times, the Telegraph) choose to retain it.

Verdict: Yahoo – it’s still instantly recognisable.

Even more difficult is him!, with its lower-cased h, which can leave writers wrangling with sentences such as: ‘The price-marked pack has been a source of confusion within the industry, according to him!.’ (Who is  ‘him’?, asks the reader.) For clarity, it’s necessary to add ‘retail consultancy’ before ‘him!’, but even then you’re still left with the awkward punctuation.

him! told us that their brand name should always be written with the exclamation mark, and ‘always be lower case even at the start of a sentence’ (like this sentence, for example, which we wrote in agony). However, they admitted that many publications refused to follow these guidelines.

Verdict: Him – him! is too confusing.

The consumer magazine Which? throws up similar questions. In fact, it sometimes throws up extra questions where you don’t want them. ‘This research was compiled by Which?’, or ‘Which one performed best in the Which? test lab?’, for example.

Which? told us:  ‘Our policy is to always include the question mark. We haven’t produced any guidance for the press, instead relying on our own presentational material to set the example.  We would encourage anyone who’s tempted to end a sentence with the word Which? to rewrite their sentence.’

Strange though the question mark may be, lopping it off also causes problems.  ‘This research was compiled by  Which’ and ‘Which one performed best in the  Which test lab?’ could be confusing, especially if your style is to write the names of publications without using italics.

Verdict: Which? – the question mark is vital to understanding the brand name.

Non-alphabet characters

There are certain non-alphabetical characters that don’t trouble the reader at all. For example, Marks & Spencer looks more natural than Marks and Spencer, as we are so used to seeing it in the high street and on TV. Even for a non-British readership, the ampersand is so widely used that it’s unlikely to jar.

The same can’t be said, however, for MORE TH>N or LV=, which are unsettling to the eye, not to mention a pain to type. A  MORE TH>N spokeswoman told us:  ‘MORE TH>N  should always be presented in this way and not re-formatted to More Than’,  but we think that’s asking quite a lot.

The Guardian’s style guide takes a zero-tolerance approach to  MORE TH>N, reading simply  ‘More Than – not MORE TH>N, which is how the insurance arm of Royal & Sun Alliance styles itself’.

When it comes to LV=, however, most publications retain the  ‘equals’  sign, because the company name is pronounced   ‘  LV equals’  (whereas the > in  MORE TH>N is, thankfully, silent).

Verdict: Marks & Spencer, More Than, LV=.

Stop SHOUTING

There is a generally accepted rule for writing acronyms (a set of initials pronounced as a word) and initialisms (a set of initials pronounced as letters). Acronyms are written with the first letter capitalised, for example Unicef and Nasa, while initialisms are capitalised all the way through, for example IBM and BBC.

However, some companies would have us write their names all in capital letters, even if they don’t actually stand for anything. For example, ASDA (a portmanteau of Asquith and Dairies), ASUS, GIGABYTE and UNISON, all of which are pronounced as words, not letters. Of course, they like this format because it makes them stand out. But unless you’re writing something with the aim of actively promoting that brand, there’s no reason why the brand name should stand out more than the other words in the document, which are equally important.

Verdict: Asda, Asus, Gigabyte and Unison. As a general rule, if you can pronounce it as a word, only capitalise the first letter. If you pronounce every letter, capitalise them all.

And then there’s Apple, with their fondness for putting a lower-case i in front of everything. However, iPad, iPod and iMac are now so widely recognised that to replace them with Ipad, Ipod and Imac would be pointlessly awkward.

Verdict: iPad, iPod, iMac – but try to avoid putting them at the start of a sentence.

When nouns become verbs

In 2006, Google tried to stop media organisations using their name as a verb. A spokesman said at the time: ‘We think it’s important to make the distinction between using the word Google to describe using Google to search the internet, and using the word Google to describe searching the internet. It has some serious trademark issues.’

However, like Hoover before them, Google have largely failed in their mission to prevent their name from being genericised. The use of ‘to google’ as a verb with a lower-cased g has caught on and even entered both the Oxford and Collins dictionaries.

Verdict: Google for the noun, google as a verb. But if you use a search engine other than Google, consider using ‘search the internet’ or do an internet search.

Twitter are currently engaged in a smaller battle, over the word ‘tweet’, for which they acquired the trademark in October 2011. Though they have never objected to a lower-case t being used for the verb ‘to tweet’, they do object to the noun being lower cased. Their guidelines state: ‘Please remember to capitalize the T in Twitter and Tweet!’ However, no one except Twitter itself actually does, and this certainly feels like a fight that has already been lost.

Verdict: Twitter, but tweet for both the verb and the noun.

Trademarks

Lastly, make sure you only use a trademarked brand name when you’re referring to something made by that brand. Do you mean Tetra Pak, or just generic cartons? Is it really a Portakabin, or is it a ‘portable cabin-style building’ (see this apology)? And if you do decide to tweak the style to make it more readable, make sure you retain the initial capital letter to signal that you’re referring to a brand rather than a generic noun (except, of course, in the case of a certain brand of products beginning with i).

The Guardian’s style guide sums it up nicely. ‘Take care: use a generic alternative unless there is a very good reason not to, eg ballpoint pen, not biro (unless it really is a Biro, in which case it takes a cap B); say photocopy rather than Xerox, etc; you will save our lawyers, and those of Portakabin and various other companies, a lot of time and trouble.’

Why not test your trademark awareness by taking our trademarks quiz? There are 12 questions, and in each case you need to decide whether the word is currently trademarked, was once trademarked or has never been trademarked.

Need a hand?

If it’s an easy life you’re after, and you can stomach block capitals and strange punctuation marks, the simplest rule is to go with what the brand itself does. But you’ll still need to decide whether to follow their logo or how they present their name in official documents, such as company reports, because these aren’t always the same (see Twitter, for example).

If, however, you decide to make a stand for legibility and carve out a house style of your own, feel free to ask our advice. You can send us a tweet (yes, we’re sticking to that lower-case t), Facebook us, email us  or even pick up the good old-fashioned phone and call us on 01273 732888.


Do you want to inform, inspire and persuade with your business documents? Our 64-page guide to professional writing, The Write Stuff, will help. Get your free copy here.

How to Treat Names of Groups and Organizations

By Mark Nichol

Proper names create challenges for writers and editors trying to identify an organizational entity in a way that is both accurate and graceful. For example, in general, if you would precede the name of an entity with the article the in speech, do so in writing, and if not, don’t.

This rule applies to organizations:

“Your charitable donation to the March of Dimes helps fund our mission,” not “Your charitable donation to March of Dimes helps fund our mission.” (The organization’s Web site lists the copyright holder as “March of Dimes Foundation,” with no article, but refers to itself throughout the site as “the March of Dimes.”)

“Save the Children has instituted rigorous standards in the communities it supports,” not “The Save the Children has instituted rigorous standards in the communities it supports.” (“One could write “the Save the Children philanthropic organization” to provide context, but “the philanthropic organization Save the Children” is more elegant.)

It is also relevant to corporations:

“GlaxoSmithKline PLC is headquartered in London,” not “The GlaxoSmithKline PLC is headquartered in London.”

“The Dow Chemical Company is headquartered in Midland, Michigan,” not “Dow Chemical Company is headquartered in Midland, Michigan.” (But a short form of the name would not be preceded by the article: “Dow is headquartered in Midland, Michigan.”

Usage in corporation names complicates matters somewhat, however. Some firms that include company in their name precede the name with the, and others don’t. (Careful writers and editors will check company literature for proper usage, or delegate the task to a fact-checker.) The same problem occurs when corporation is part of the name: For example, Microsoft Corporation omits the in its official corporate name, but many other such entities include it, as in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Number agreement of proper nouns and verbs is also a significant issue. For example, in American English, names of music ensembles, whether orchestras or pop groups, are matched with singular or plural verbs depending on the name:

“Led Zeppelin was an English rock band,” not “Led Zeppelin were an English rock band.”

“The Beatles were an English rock band,” “Not the Beatles was an English rock band.” (Note, also, that the, when it precedes a band name, is not capitalized, even if band documentation uses a capitalized the.)

However, British English employs plural verbs regardless of the form of the band name: “Led Zeppelin were an English rock band,” and “The Beatles were an English rock band.”

In the United States, names of athletic teams are always treated as plural, regardless of whether the name is a singular or plural term:

“The Magic are headquartered in Orlando, Florida,” not “The Magic is headquartered in Orlando, Florida.” (Note that the house style of the New York Times is an exception.)

“The Giants are headquartered in San Francisco,” not “The Giants is headquartered in San Francisco.” (But “The San Francisco Giants baseball team is in the National League of Major League Baseball,” and “The team is headquartered in San Francisco.”)

In American English usage, metonymic team references, in which a team is referred to by the place name rather than the mascot name, are in singular form: “Orlando is on its way to the playoffs,” and “San Francisco is in a slump.”

In the United Kingdom and other countries where British English is standard, a distinction is made between the organization and the athletes as a group: In the former case, the singular form is used (“The Manchester United Football Club is the most successful football club in England”), but the plural form prevails in the latter case (“Manchester United are ahead by one point”).

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9 Responses to “How to Treat Names of Groups and Organizations”

  • venqax

    But what if it is not snowing? Is either equally incorrect?

    Sorry, couldn’t help it.

  • Mark Nichol

    I think either singular or plural is fine, but I would alter the plural choice slightly:

    “Coventry Christian Schools is closed today because of snow” refers to a single entity. (It’s analogous to a corporation called World Wide Widgets; the product is plural, but the corporation is a single entity.)

    “The Coventry Christian Schools are closed today because of snow” (note the insertion of the at the beginning of the sentence) identifies the entity as consisting of more than one part.

  • Linda

    Perhaps you can help me with this one, which has always stumped me. When referring to a private school, which has a plural title, since it has two campuses, and is thus called, “Coventry Christian Schools” on it’s letterhead, is it correct to refer to them as singular or plural? For example, would it be correct to say, “Coventry Christian Schools is closed today because of snow,” or “Coventry Christian Schools are closed today because of snow”?

  • Mark Nichol

    Ed:

    I initially thought it odd that the EPA cares enough about how others refer to it to issue a guideline — who would say it wrong? — but I can just picture lobbyists tossing around comments like “EPA is up in arms about that” and “My friend at EPA told me.”

  • Mark Nichol

    Carole:

    Sorry about the confusion. I should have made this passage clearer. A corporate name that includes abbreviations such as Inc. and LLC should not be preceded by the. (Such appendages, by the way, may usually be safely amputated.)

    Names followed by Corporation and Company may or may not be preceded by the, depending on the firm’s style. Familiar corporate names such as Microsoft and Dow usually don’t need a formal recitation of the full name; in that case, always omit the regardless of style for the full name.

    (There are always exceptions: The familiar name of the Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. is “the Hartford.” The company would have you capitalize the, but that’s a lot to ask.)

  • Mark Nichol

    Kristin:

    I’ve never heard of this prohibition, and I don’t think it’s valid. You could certainly construct a sentence to avoid the possessive — “Nestle staff received the memo on Friday” — but there’s no reason to go out of your way to do so.

  • Ed Buckner

    The Environmental Protection Agency recently released style guidance saying that the word the should always preceed both Environmental Protection Agency and EPA. It is common for people to say EPA and not the EPA, but now we have our guidance.

  • Carole Devine

    Aren’t the following two statements contradictory? I don’t get it.

    “GlaxoSmithKline PLC is headquartered in London,” not “The GlaxoSmithKline PLC is headquartered in London.”

    “The Dow Chemical Company is headquartered in Midland, Michigan,” not “Dow Chemical Company is headquartered in Midland, Michigan.” (But a short form of the name would not be preceded by the article: “Dow is headquartered in Midland, Michigan.”

  • Kristin

    This was very helpful as always. I was told that you should never add an “‘s” to a company or brand name, e.g. Nestle’s staff. Is this true? What are your thoughts?

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