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Camel Case

What’s the deal with the second capital in MySpace, OutKast, and PowerPoint?

By
Mignon Fogarty
May 12, 2011
Episode #275

Page 1 of 2

A listener named Pete was reading his copy of my book The Grammar Devotional and came across my entry about camel case, the practice of squishing two or more words together, but keeping the first letter of the second or third words capitalized so that the word looks like a camel with a hump in the middle. I gave as examples “MySpace” and the band name OutKast. In general, I don't like camel case. I talked about the history, which is probably related to computer programming restrictions that mean you can’t have spaces in variables and file names, and I concluded that “marketers decided it was a trendy way to make a company  name stand out.”

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Camel Case: The URL Factor

Camel case can make multi-word URLs easier to read.

Pete takes exception to my conclusion and makes an interesting point. He wrote, “There's a key piece of missing information here. A major force driving the spread of CamelCase is quite specifically the desire for ‘.com’ web URLs that correspond to your company or brand. In the top-level “.com” domain, virtually every simple English word is taken. The easiest way to find “.com” address that's both memorable and available is to combine two words.  

Your newfound URL can't have a space in it, so neither can your new company or brand. But if you don't capitalize the second word, you get a compound word instead of two words, and the effect is often strange. In 1999, I found a great URL for my internet publishing startup: NetRead. If I didn't use CamelCase and spelled the company Netread, I found that half the people seeing the name pronounced it ‘Knee-Tread’ (My parents still prefer that pronunciation, presumably because they hate me.)

Companies neglect CamelCase at their peril. It seems to me that Netease.com has succeeded in spite of their name [which could easily be interpreted as knee-teas, while Netflix was safe with the single cap. Even without such land mines, the extra capital letters can make the name easier to grok or remember: LowerMyBills.com is easier on the eye than Lowermybills.com. I could go on, but you probably get the point: It's all about the URL. ”

I would argue that it is possible to have a space in your company name and still write it as camel case whenever you print the URL, but I do see his point also that the trend toward camel case isn't just marketers trying to be cute--it also has a practical underbelly. Also, in some instances URLs can be case sensitive, so it is a good idea to be consistent and reinforce how you want people to type your URL into their browsers. Plus, I'm always harping on people about being consistent, so I stand corrected, or at least better informed and more open minded.

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