Kings, Queens, Pharaohs, and Emperors

Writers frequently struggle to know when a title such as king, queen, pharaoh, emperor, or the like should be capitalized and when it is more properly lowercased. SBLHS 4.3.6 includes all of these terms in a list of capitalization and spelling examples; this post reinforces the guidelines illustrated there by explaining the rationale behind them (see also CMS 8.18–32).

1. A title should be capitalized when it appears immediately before a personal name and thus effectively serves as a part of the compound name (i.e., it is part of a compound proper noun).

King Saul

Queen Athaliah

Pharaoh Seti I

Emperor Domitian

2. When a title is used independently, not as part of a compound personal name, it is lowercased. That is, the titular word is treated as any other common noun.

a king

the queen

many pharaohs

Roman emperors

3. As CMS 8.20 explains, “When a title is used in apposition before a personal name—… usually preceded by the or by a modifier—it is considered not a title but rather a descriptive phrase and is therefore lowercased.” That is, when the entire sequence consists of the + title + name, the title is lowercased because it is descriptive (common noun), not a part of a compound proper noun.

the king Saul

the queen Athaliah

the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I

the emperor Domitian

The same principle applies when the title appears after the name.

Saul the king

Athaliah the queen

Seti I the Egyptian pharaoh

Domitian the emperor

In the end, the guidelines are relatively simple: capitalize a title when it appears immediately before a name and forms a compound with it; lowercase a title in all other instances.


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