I'm working on a an ad for my company. The company name, when typed out, is in all caps. I work for a law firm, so the company name is three last names. I am currently typing it out as follows (using fake names here):


I was just told by the previous graphic designer, who is now the head of IT, that when using all caps I should not put a comma after SMITH. I've been a graphic designer for nearly 14 years and I've never heard of this rule before. It seems to me that if I did not put a comma after SMITH it would make it seem like SMITH JOHNSON is one person.

Am I correct in my thinking? What is the correct way to punctuate this?

  • 1
    there are two things at play here: what is grammatical and what is decorative. A logo can (and sometimes should) break grammatical rules, but some people simply cannot get over the ungrammaticality and there will be fights. I have definitely heard of this rule. Like all rules of this nature it can be broken and often isn't even a rule to begin with. I simply cannot sanction the lack of an oxford comma however.
    – Yorik
    Jul 7 '16 at 14:41
  • As much as I think this is an interesting discussion, I'd say it's more suitable for english.stackexchange.com and you might get better answers there.
    – Luciano
    Jul 7 '16 at 15:08
  • 2
    This is not really an English question, it is a typography question.
    – Yorik
    Jul 7 '16 at 15:09
  • I would say this is more of a branding question than a typography question.
    – Cai
    Jul 7 '16 at 15:31
  • 1
    @Yorik I would say the use of an Oxford comma should absolutely be sanctioned (ie, punished). A comma is never used before an ampersand. Jul 7 '16 at 17:45

This is not an industry standard rule, in fact it goes against the rules of correct punctuation.

However it may be a brand rule. These may override even the laws of physics. Just kidding, not physics, but grammar and punctuation certainly.

Try and ascertain if this is an established brand rule. It sounds as though it is, especially if the instructions came from the previous designer.

Again, not an industry standard, but potentially a company standard.

  • I agree that it very well may be a company standard, but I knew it wasn't correct punctuation. Time to send out the email chain to see how they would prefer it to be written. I appreciate your help. Thank you for your quick response!
    – Jessica
    Jul 7 '16 at 15:01
  • 1
    Chicago Manual of Style says that commas are optional "so long as it does not introduce ambiguity or confusion."
    – Yorik
    Jul 7 '16 at 15:08
  • @Yorik the lack of a comma here (i.e seperating two names) is as clear a case of ambiguity and confusion as you could possibly get
    – Cai
    Jul 7 '16 at 15:24
  • If it were "James Johnson", I would agree with you.
    – Yorik
    Jul 7 '16 at 16:44

Interesting debate here. My opinion is that it's subjective. If you can subtract the comma and it doesn't confuse the subject, then subtract it. Punctuation, though grammatically correct, can and does add visual confusion to a design. Design text runs the gamut and depending on the era, use of punctuation changes. From the 1940s to 60s, before design became a widespread academic study, punctuation was often added or subtracted for impact purposes. Impact still has importance today, as well, and ultimately, that's what matters... does the design lose it's impact value with the comma in place? The last thing you want your design to appear as is didactic and texty. Words in design get treated, in equal parts, like images. They are images. The whole composition is an image. The fine artist, Barbara Kruger made a career out of eliminating punctuation and superimposing bold text on top of evocative images. Her influence on graphic design, photography and fine art painting is unquestionable and profound. Nobody criticized her for eliminating commas, periods, etc.

For you, however... If you're going to subtract the comma, also subtract the "&" - SMITH JOHNSON BROWN, PLC

I shop therefore I am: Correct grammar... "I shop, therefore I am." enter image description here

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.