Writing Tip Wednesday: A Few Title Capitalization Rules

This month’s tip comes from something I learned at work when we were running a bulletin blurb for a new kids’ ministry coordinator.

Are you supposed to capitalize job titles? The church had been doing it for years, but I wasn’t so sure that was correct, so I pulled out my favorite book in the world, the 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (okay, so it’s probably not my favorite book, but I do spend a lot of time with it), and learned a few things . . .

When a title (civil, military, religious, and professional) comes immediately before a person’s name (and is used as part of their name), it should be capitalized and usually replaces the person’s first name.

For example:
We really enjoyed Pastor Johnson’s sermon on Easter.
The family was disappointed with Judge Nelson’s decision.

When a person’s title follows their name or is used in place of their name, it is usually lowercased.

For example:
Joseph Andrews, the president of the company, called a mandatory meeting for all staff members.
Marcia Smith, the company’s communication director, disagreed with the graphic designer.

Sometimes, when titles are used in “formal contexts as opposed to running text,” they are capitalized.

For example:
(In the front of a book) I’d like to thank the following people:
Mike Jones, Developmental Editor at ABC Publishing
Rita Hanson, Fourth Grade Teacher at Washington Elementary
Megan Miller, Office Assistant at Apex Windows

If a title is used before a personal name as a “descriptive tag,” it should be lowercased.

For example:
He gave her a book by the poet Neruda.
Mary sent a letter to the Minnesota governor Mark Dayton.

This information was taken from The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition (8.21–8.23).