I'm writing an article that includes reference to an organization - let's say National Ecological Council of Concerned Citizens - which, instead of NECOCC, uses the acronym necocc, i.e. lower-case and italics.

It looks silly (we're different), but... what are the rules here?

I won't be using the italics, but maybe NECOCC is saying its name is now a word, not an acronym? But then I'd capitalize the N. Any advice out there?

2 Answers 2


You need to differentiate between the orthographically correct representation and the typographic treatment of text.

For example, a photographer by the name of Robert Smith might decide to write his name in lowercase letters, as "robert smith", both in his signature and in the wordmark representing him in letterheads, on his website and in watermarks in his published photos. If you write an article about that photographer, you would still give his name in the orthographically correct form, as "Robert Smith", with capital letters beginning both the first and last name. You might mention what his workmark looks like ("Robert Smith, who styles his name in lowercase letters,..."), or provide an image of it, but you would certainly not try to represent it in text, except enclosed in quotation marks ("Robert Smith, who styles his name in lowercase letters as 'robert smith', because, as he says, ...").

In English, "when abbreviating a phrase where only the first letter of each word is taken, then all letters should be capitalized" (Wikipedia). Only acronyms "that were originally capitalized (with or without periods) but have since entered the vocabulary as generic word are no longer written with capital letters nor with any periods. Examples are sonar, radar, lidar, laser, snafu, and scuba." (ibd.)

The APA Publication Manual (6th ed., 2009, p. 107) recommends that if you are unsure about wether an acronym is considered an acronym or a word, look it up in Merriam-Webster. If it is an acronym (or other abbreviation), it will be marked as "abbreviation" (e.g. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/usa). If it is not marked as abbreviation, it is considered a word and not capitalized. Exceptions are the beginning of sentences ("Radar is a technology...") and "spelled" acronyms (such as IQ, noun). If an acronym (or other abbreviation) is not in Merriam-Webster, it is not a word but an abbreviation.

In your example, you must give the name of the organization as "NECOCC", and do not forget to explain the abbreviation the first time you introduce it ("The National Ecological Council of Concerned Citizens (NECOCC) have... Yesterday, NECOCC released a press statement that...").

In any kind of non-formal writing, you are of course free to do however you wish.

  • 3
    +1. I think what makes this case different is that it's an acronym; the letters stand for something. Without the all-caps, you don't know that you're looking at an acronym, which impedes comprehension. A brand or a person can use all lowercase because it's a name (adidas, e.e. cummings) and therefore a single word. Separately, I have seen in stylebooks where such a name is always presented in the person's or brand's preferred orthography, with or without the explanation. Mar 8, 2015 at 14:36
  • 1
    It seemed to that neococc's communications strategy falls flat on its face because no editor is going to use neococc like that, at least not until it's a household... acronym
    – user13119
    Mar 8, 2015 at 16:02

First, two general principles:

  • Consistency with other publications is useful. Consistency within a publication is also useful. So write a style guide that documents your house style.
  • Your house style does not necessarily have to match the stylization of a wordmark.

An acronym is an abbreviation pronounced as a word. Many publications write acronyms with all capital letters, like other initialisms. But some publications capitalize acronyms as ordinary proper nouns to help distinguish the pronunciation of "Nasa" from that of the spelled-out initialism "FBI". The Guardian mentions this in its style guide, and BBC News tends toward this as well. The New York Times has a compromise: acronyms up to four letters are set in capital letters, while longer ones are set as proper nouns to avoid the "shouting". For example, N.Y.T. style contrasts "F.B.I." (spelled-out with periods), "NATO" (short acronym with all caps), and "Unicef" (long acronym with title case).

Speaking of Unicef, I had a look at its web site. Unicef's logo uses all lowercase ("unicef"), while the text uses all capitals ("UNICEF"). This difference in stylization between the wordmark and the appearance in running text is common; the logo of Facebook uses a lowercase ''f'', and Twitter used all lowercase before a June 2012 redesign dumped the wordmark entirely for the birdmark. AOL is a spelled-out initialism rendered as "AOL" in text, even though its wordmark resembles "Aol." with the period.

Related questions on other Stack Exchange sites:

  • 2
    there's something pleasing about the sentence "Twitter dumped the wordmark entirely for the birdmark"
    – Tim
    Mar 8, 2015 at 21:00

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