15

The name of the mythological creature in my novel is "manananggal". When I'm referring to it, should I capitalize what it is?

  • 4
    The key concept here is the proper noun. – David Richerby Nov 29 '18 at 19:03
  • The answer to this question is yes because it lacks proper pluralization. manananggals - you can't make up a word and expect to have people assume it's a non-count noun.... – Mazura Nov 30 '18 at 0:11
  • I think it's Filipino for 'unbelievers'. Is that deliberated? – Strawberry Nov 30 '18 at 10:44
  • @Mazura pluralisation has nothing to do with capitalisation. Take for example "James" - "James'" see how it was pluralised? eg - "James' stand up" (an alternative spelling is James's). As stated by David; proper nouns get capitalised, words starting a sentence also; the rest do not. – UKMonkey Nov 30 '18 at 13:18
  • Actually, it has nothing to do with capitalization, pluralization, or proper nouns. The problem is the word creature, which needs to be either species or being (or proceeded by the words type of); the answers to which are a no and a yes (and a no), respectively. – Mazura Nov 30 '18 at 23:43
31

Yes, if it's the Grinch

A unique creature, which is the Manananggal (effectively THAT creature's name), should be capitalized.

No, if it's a fairy

Even if your creature is rare, if you are likely to ever refer to it as a manananggal (a member of a group or species), then don't capitalize it.

  • 3
    Note that "the" isn't the indication. For example, I don't call you the Jedediah but it's still your given name (well, chosen username, but you get my point). However, it would be correct to say that when "a Manananggal" doesn't make sense, then it suggests that Manananggal is a given name and thus chould be capitalized. – Flater Nov 29 '18 at 8:55
  • 2
    Yes, the rule isn't perfect. What I'm trying to give a rough rule for, say, "a devil" versus "the Devil". And English isn't even perfectly consistent on this, since in the King James Version of the bible, (or is it the Bible?), in Revelation 12, Satan is called "the Devil" and "the dragon". Apparently, in the NIV, he's called "the Dragon". The "the" rule is good but not perfect for title-names. It doesn't apply to common names. – Jedediah Nov 29 '18 at 11:31
  • 2
    @celtschk The choice of "a John" is itself a bit of a special case, since that also refers to something else, besides just "one of many people with the name John". – JMac Nov 29 '18 at 14:53
  • 2
    @JMac good point. For that other use of a John, would you still capitalize it? – ale10ander Nov 29 '18 at 20:02
  • 2
    @ale10ander that's American toilet - Brits don't call the toilet "john" – Chris B Nov 30 '18 at 15:44
8

Mythological creatures, or creatures you've invented, don't need to be capitalised, just like real-life animals. There's no grammatical difference between "a dog", "an orc", "a dragon" and "a manananggal".

To cite a famous example,

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. (J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit, chapter 1 - An Unexpected Party)

  • 5
    It's a toss up whether your answer is correct or not, as "mythological creature" can (possibly) imply that only one exists, at which point their name is considered a given name and thus capitalized. For example: Bigfoot is a specific creature and thus capitalized, whereas yeti are considered a species and thus not capitalized. – Flater Nov 29 '18 at 8:59
  • 2
    @Flater Say there is only one fossil having given characteristics. Even though it's unique, biologists would give name to it as species and it is not to be capitalized. – rus9384 Nov 29 '18 at 9:51
  • 3
    @ANeves Otzi is no different from Lucy the Australopithecus (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_(Australopithecus)). It's a personal name, given by scientists to a find. Personal names get capitalised. Species don't. – Galastel Nov 29 '18 at 14:45
  • 2
    There are plenty of mythological creatures who are individuals with specific names, e.g. Medusa would be capitalised. It is not clear from from the original question whether "manananggal" is a species or an individual. – Sean Burton Nov 29 '18 at 16:51
  • 1
    @SeanBurton Medusa is her given name though, she is a gorgon – eirikdaude Nov 30 '18 at 10:45
7

Do not capitalize the name of a species

There are hobbits, dwarves, dragons, horses, dogs, unicorns, cats, and so on.

Capitalize the personal name of an individual

They saw Peter, the human being.
They saw Capper, the dog.
They saw Smaug, the dragon.

Smaug is the personal name of this dragon. Other dragons have other names.

Note that while there may be more than one Peter (and potentially more than one dragon named Smaug), there is no species of peters (or smaugs). The same name can be given to different individuals (of different species: Peter the dog, Peter the dragon), but that still doesn't make them members of their own species, nor Peter a class name. They are all Peters, but not peters.

Capitalize the species names of unique beings

The Grinch.

Grinch is not the personal name of this creature, it is the name of its species. But there is (or appears to be) only one of its kind, which makes its species name like a personal name in that it denotes a single unique individual. When I say "dragon" you don't know which one I speak of, but when I say "Grinch" you know which one I mean because there is only one of them, which makes "Grinch" function like a personal name.

Now you could say that the Grinch is a fictional character, invented by a writer of literature, and that its author may have chosen to capitalize this word on a whim. But there are examples from the real world that show the same difference in capitalization between the name of a mythological species and the name of a unique mythological being, such as banshee and Cailleach. There are many banshees. It is the name of a species and is therefore not capitalized. But there is only one Cailleach. Yet Cailleach is not the personal name of this being, but a description: cailleach means "old woman" in Irish, just as banshee means "fairy woman". They are both species names, their difference is that Cailleach is a species with only one member, so she becomes the Cailleach, just like the Grinch.


As David Richerby has pointed out in a comment, "Grinch" and "Peter" are proper nouns, while "dragon" is not.

To summarize:

  1. If there are many manananggals, don't capitalize the species name.
  2. If there is only one Manananggal, capitalize its species or personal name.
  • Members of a particular organization, nation, or tribe which are identified with the name of that entity (e.g. a Mason, an Americal, or a Seminole) are also capitalized, even when used to refer to one of many members. If there were a Society of Grinches, it would have been proper to capitalize the reference to the Grinch in the story, even if there were many other Grinches. – supercat Nov 29 '18 at 22:00

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