Certain capitalization rules, such as the capitalization of animal names in English, can sometimes confuse native and non-native speakers alike. Spell check programs may help, but should not be trusted entirely. Working knowledge of capitalization rules can be more helpful in answering the question, “Are animal names capitalized?”
As a refresher, a common noun refers to a generic person, place or thing within a group. You wouldn't capitalize nouns like a teacher, student, city, or country. On the other hand, a proper noun refers to a unique person, place or thing. Using the same examples, you would capitalize proper nouns like Mrs. Smith, Jerry, Los Angeles, and Mexico.
When it comes to the capitalization of animal names, the difference can be tricky. The name of your pet would be capitalized, just as the name of a human would be:
However, the category of animals generally would not be capitalized, like dog, cat, rat, bunny, or horse. Those are always written in lowercase because they are a variety of species within that category of noun.
Similarly, "Garfield the cat" is capitalized as such because "Garfield" is a proper noun, and "cat" is a common noun. However, "Felix the Cat" is capitalized as such because "Felix the Cat" is the character's actual name. Explore some other examples:
- Moo Cow (actual name)
- Moo the cow (Moo is the cow’s name.)
- Duke the Dog (actual name)
- Duke the dog (Duke is the dog’s name.)
- Bunny the rabbit (Bunny is the rabbit’s name.)
- Bunny Rabbit (actual name)
Individual species, breeds or varieties within a category follow the same capitalization rules surrounding proper nouns and common nouns. The part of the breed that is derived from a proper noun is capitalized, whereas a part derived from a common noun is not. That's why "German shepherd" should have a capital "G" for German, but a lowercase "s" for shepherd. The rules would be similar for a French bulldog and English foxhound but lowercase for a cocker spaniel or golden retriever.
Some dog’s names include proper nouns for places and people like:
- Airedale terrier
- Brittany spaniel
- Doberman pinscher
- Jack Russell terrier
- Mexican wolf
- Persian cat
- British shorthair
- Siamese cat
That being said, some websites like the American Kennel Club and The Cat Fanciers’ Association capitalize the names of breeds: German Shepherd, French Bulldog and English Foxhound. However, this goes against official standards, like those described by the MLA Style Center (Modern Language Association).
Another type of animal name that should be capitalized is the scientific name of a species. However, not all parts of the name will be capitalized. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature breaks the scientific classification of animals into:
- a binomen - the generic name and the specific name
- a trinomen - the generic name followed by a specific name and a subspecific name
In this case, the generic name should be capitalized but not any other word in the title. For example:
- a dog would be Canis familiaris
- a cat is Felis catus
- a horse is Equus caballus
- a rabbit is Oryctolagus cuniculus
- a guinea pig is Cavia porcellus
- a goat is Capra aegagrus hircus
Because these are considered Latin names, they follow Latin capitalization rules.