Style Quiz #9: Geographical and Geopolitical Names
All but one of the following sentences demonstrate incorrect style for capitalization of place names according to The Chicago Manual of Style and other writing guides; revise as necessary:
1. The Atlantic ocean separates the Western and Eastern Hemispheres.
2. Political tensions have abated around the Gulf.
3. Nashville is a Mecca for aficionados of country music.
4. I believe that the Republic will endure.
5. The city of Los Angeles ordinance went into effect last year.
Answers and Explanations
Exceptions abound for treatment of place names, but specific places, when referred to literally, are generally capitalized, and generic references are lowercased.
Original: The Atlantic ocean separates the Western and Eastern Hemispheres.
Correct : The Atlantic Ocean separates the Western and Eastern Hemispheres.
In names of bodies of water, the word for the body of water is generally capitalized. (Although “Western and Eastern Hemispheres” is not the name of a single geographical feature, a convention allows two features that share a designating word to be capitalized as shown.)
Original: Political tensions have abated around the Gulf.
Correct : Political tensions have abated around the Gulf.
If the context is clear, certain designations for geographical or geopolitical features can be capitalized in isolation from more specific terms. This sentence is correct.
Original: Nashville is a Mecca for aficionados of country music.
Correct : Nashville is a mecca for aficionados of country music.
A place name is not capitalized when it is used metaphorically.
Original: I believe that the Republic will endure.
Correct : I believe that the republic will endure.
Capitalization of generic terms such as republic is a rhetorical flourish and is not recommended for formal writing.
Original: The city of Los Angeles ordinance went into effect last year.
Correct : The City of Los Angeles ordinance went into effect last year.
When a municipal designation refers to the governmental body, not the location, capitalize the word city (or town, village, or the like).
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