A week ago, we took a first look at two ways titles can be indicated.
We’ll now add to that one very specific use of italics. Did you know that the names of ships are considered titles? Because of this, names of ships (including space ships!) are always italicized:
: Today, the U.S.S. Missouri is tied up at Pearl Harbor and serves as a floating museum.
: Han Solo is the commander of the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars.
This brings up a very interesting conflict: What do we do with names of cars? It seems weird to italicize Herbie, Christine, and even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all cars with names, unless we’re referring to the titles of the films in which these cars appear. Yet the General Lee seems to ask for italics. At first I was going to suggest that the use of the word the in the name of a car indicates whether it is a title (as for the Bloomin’ Onion) or just a name. This distinction would make a lot of sense, because sometimes a car is a vehicle, like a boat or a train, and sometimes it is more of a friend, like The Lone Ranger’s Trigger.
In fact, I think the distinction is kind of cool. America is the birthplace of the automobile, and for many of us our wheels are more like trusty steeds (another American motif) than instruments of transport. And while Snoopy One is usually not written with the in front of it, it doesn’t sound at all weird to refer to it as the Snoopy One, just as we would say the Nina or the Santa Maria.
What, then, do we do with the Batmobile, which isn’t (and probably shouldn’t be) italicized? I am going to suggest that the Batmobile’s name is neither a name nor a title: It is simply what that specific machine is called. You see, Enterprise is the title given to a spaceship. Angela was the name of my red pickup truck when I was in college. The Batmobile is not really the name of anything: It’s just what it is, ‘though it happens to be unique. The starship, the pickup truck, the Batmobile.
I will summarize this way, then:
- If it’s the name of a ship (or plane or bus or train or blimp), it’s a title and should be italicized.
- If it’s the name of a car, determine whether it’s a formal (or formal-like) title or an affectionate name. Italicize the titles; simply capitalize the names.
- For everything else, roll the dice and go with your best reasoning, or email me for advice!