When I write non-scientific articles or other kind of texts online, I often use italic to emphasize the names of non-fictional human beings when they are important and appear for the first time in the text. Is this considered a good/alright use of italics or is it weird/wrong?

Example: "The island of Pintada was first seen by the Spanish captain Francisco Hernandez during a trip between Cuba and Porto.

I think it's tiresome to use it every time someone new is introduced but I tend to do it for the most important people in a story. I have read plenty of advice on use with tiles (books, etc), for emphasis, foreign language, etc, but could not find any best practice for people names.

  • Just looking at the example you gave, it's kind of confusing whether Francisco Hernandez refers to the individual or the ship they sailed on when they saw the island. Ship names and scientific names are frequently italicized and or capitalized as common practice. Apr 24 '20 at 20:42

It's unusual, but not entirely without some kind of precedent.

For instance, as expressed by John August:

In screenplays, characters’ names in the scene description are capitalized only when a character first appears in the script. (And by capitalized, I mean in all caps, like MIKE or BOB.)

Granted, this is specific to screenplays—and the stylistic element is capitalization rather than italicization. Also note that, in this convention, I believe it's applied to every character.

I will say I've never heard of, or seen, this application of italics before. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

It might be considered strange, and some editors would probably try to change it or caution you against it, but I wouldn't consider it necessarily wrong. Style is, after all, subjective.

However, that article does go on to say this:

Yes, I’ve seen exceptions … but I think the conventions make sense and should be followed.

So, if you're following convention, I would not recommend that particular style. However, if you feel strongly about it for some reason, it's your choice. Just be sure to be able to defend that choice to anybody who questions it—and also be able to come up a set of rules you can consistently apply that make it clear when one proper noun is put in italics and another isn't.


I have seen this plenty in textbooks for both names and of people and key events or ideas as a means of highlighting vocabulary(?). Given the context above, it just sounds like any middle school history textbook. I would completely expect assignments or tests at the end of the reading where I have to answer specific questions related to anything italicized. Some textbooks use highlighting or alternate text colors instead, but it is essentially the same thing. Just making that small part of text clear for future reference.

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