Pope, Reverend, Rabbi: Are Religious Titles Capitalized?

Summary

Capitalize words like pope, bishop, rabbi, and reverend when using them as religious titles before a name. Lowercase them as common nouns.

Examples
  • We met Bishop O’Connor at the fundraiser.
  • but
  • He is now a bishop.

When to capitalize

Always capitalize words like bishop, father, reverend, saint, rabbi, imam, and guru when they appear as titles before a name.

Examples
  • What did Bishop Wilson say?
  • Our parish priest is Father Michael O’Meara.
  • I am Sister Mary Thérèse.
  • We attended a talk by the Reverend Peter Jones.
  • This book was written by Rabbi Sarah Kohler.
  • After years of exile, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran in 1979.
  • Please discuss this with Imam Malik.
  • These are the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh.
  • One of his idols is Swami Vivekananda.
  • Pope Francis met Cardinal Luka yesterday at the Vatican.
  • This archdiocese is administered by Archbishop Nathan.
  • This school is named after Saint Francis of Assisi.

Also capitalize religious titles when they are used in place of a person’s name to address the person.

Examples
  • Thank you, Father.
  • No, Rabbi, I haven’t read that book.
  • Can I help you, Sister?

Capitalize religious titles when they are abbreviated.

Examples
  • This letter is addressed to Rev. John Thomas.
  • This book is about the life of St. Francis.
Tip

When writing about a member of the clergy or other religious order, use their full name along with title on first reference. After this, you can refer to them by their title and last name, simply the title lowercased, or only their last name.

Examples
  • Bishop John Wilson; Bishop Wilson; the bishop; Wilson
  • Rabbi Sarah Kohler; Rabbi Kohler; the rabbi; Kohler

When not to capitalize

Don’t capitalize religious designations like bishop, minister, reverend, and pastor when they are used as common nouns.

Examples
  • He was raised from bishop to archbishop in 2013.
  • Her sister is a reverend in the Army.
  • This book was written by a rabbi.
  • We met the minister in church last Sunday.
  • The pastor then led the congregation in prayer.
  • As we watched from the rooftop, the ayatollah’s car crept into view.
  • The imam then stood up.
  • The mullah has arrived to solemnize the marriage.
  • The tenth Sikh guru was Guru Gobind Singh.
  • They met a great swami during their pilgrimage.
  • He was a pandit of some renown.
  • Both cardinals are now at the Vatican.
Note

The religious title of Dalai Lama is generally capitalized.

Examples
  • Anita interviewed the Dalai Lama in 2016.
  • The present Dalai Lama escaped to India in 1959.

Pope: Capitalization

Always capitalize the word pope when used as a title before a name.

Examples
  • The newspaper reports that Pope Francis has urged hairdressers to stop gossiping.
  • Here is a list of works by Pope John Paul II.
  • He was consecrated as bishop by Pope Benedict XVI.

Lowercase the word pope as a common noun.

Examples
  • The pope lives in Vatican City.
  • He is the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Pope John Paul II was pope of the Catholic Church for over twenty-six years.
  • Here is a list of popes of the sixteenth century.

Note that the word pope is often capitalized when referring to the current pope in his official position.

Example
  • The Pope/pope has decreed that four new saints will be canonized this year.

When referring to the current pope, you may either capitalize or lowercase the word. Style guides like the AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style recommend lowercasing. However, the term is often capitalized in official documents. Make a style choice, and follow it consistently. If you are an editor, respect the writer’s preference.

Tip

The word god is generally capitalized when it refers to the supreme being or a deity.

Example
  • She prayed to God that her son would live.

But when used as a common noun, god is lowercased.

Examples
  • Poco thinks of himself as a golden god.
  • The gods and goddesses of Greek mythology live on Mt. Olympus.

Forms of address: Your Holiness

Traditional forms of respectful address to members of religious orders are capitalized: Your Holiness, Your Reverence, Your Beatitude, Your Eminence, Your Excellency, etc.

Examples
  • They’re waiting for you, Your Holiness.
  • I’m sorry, Your Eminence, we don’t have the papers.
  • The mystery remains unsolved, Your Excellency.
  • I regret to inform you, Your Reverence, that the chalice has been stolen.

Also capitalize such forms of address when used in the third person.

Examples
  • You will have to wait to meet His Holiness.
  • This is a message from His Eminence, Paul Cardinal Collins.
  • We heard a sermon from His Excellency, the Most Reverend Tom Jones.

Other titles

Rules for capitalizing other titles are similar to those for religious titles. In general, capitalize social, professional, civil, royal, and military titles when they precede a name or are used to address someone. Lowercase them as common nouns.

Examples
  • This is a book of essays by Sir Richard Steele.
  • May I speak with Professor Lobo?
  • We met President Clinton in 1997.
  • This chair belonged to Queen Victoria.
  • I have a message for General Wilson.
  • but
  • Is she the new professor?
  • The country has just elected its new president.
  • Who the king or queen is can affect foreign policy.
  • Their lead guitarist is a retired general.

Quick Quiz

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Did You Know?

A doctor of Eastern medicine might move east of the border.
Know more:North, South, East, West: Are Directions Capitalized?