A proper noun or proper name is a noun representing unique entities (such as London, Jupiter, John Hunter, or Toyota), as distinguished from a common noun which describe a class of entities (such as city, planet, person or car). Proper nouns are not normally preceded by an article or other limiting modifier (such as any or some), and are used to denote a particular person, place, or object without regard to any descriptive meaning the word or phrase may have (for example, a town called "Newtown" may be, but does not necessarily have to be, a new [recently built] town).
In English and most other languages that use the Latin alphabet, proper nouns are usually capitalized. Languages differ in whether most elements of multiword proper nouns are capitalized (e.g., American English House of Representatives) or only the initial element (e.g., Slovenian Državni zbor 'National Assembly'). In German, nouns of all types are capitalized. In past centuries, orthographic practices in English, including noun capitalization, varied widely, with less standardization than today. Documents from the 18th century show some writers capitalizing all nouns and others capitalizing certain nouns based on varying ideas of their importance in the discussion. For example, the end (but not the beginning) of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and all of the Constitution (1787) show nearly all nouns capitalized, the Bill of Rights (1789) capitalizes a few common nouns but not most of them, and the Thirteenth Constitutional Amendment (1865) only capitalizes proper nouns. Today English orthography has been standardized to the point that capitalizing common nouns is considered formally incorrect outside of sentence-initial or title case contexts. Although informal writing often dismisses formal orthographic standards (by mutual consent of the communicators), an epistemological stance of orthographic "right and wrong" governs formal writing.
Today the meaning of proper noun capitalization is uniqueness within an implicit context, that is, it provides a name to an instance of a general type when the instance is unique within an implicit context. Most often the implicit context is "the whole world" or "the universe"; thus London, Jupiter, John Hunter, and Toyota are effortlessly understood as being cosmically unique; they derive their proper-noun status (and thus their capitalization) from that fact, and those properties are unequivocal (no one could argue with them). But in instances where a context shift is possible, and the context shift causes a shift from uniqueness to nonuniqueness, the capitalization or lowercasing decision may become a matter of perspective, as discussed below (see especially the examples under "Specific designators"). Sometimes the same word can function as both a common noun and a proper noun, depending on context. Two variants of this principle can be distinguished, although the distinction is blurred by real-world use of the labels to refer to instances of both types. They have no universally agreed names (that is, no standardized metalanguage), but the names "capitonym" and "specific designator" have some currency.
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