Setting Irish Names in Small Caps

jacobsievers's picture

Does anyone have experience setting Irish names in small caps? I am particularly concerned with traditional medial casing: Is it necessary to indicate this somehow? Is there a common Irish precedent?

I'm tending to think it's okay to set the whole name in the same small caps, without making any distinctions.

Joshua Langman's picture

I have done this in the past. If the name is MACDONALD, I set the "AC" a point or two smaller.

Arguably, not necessary, but it's customary and looks nice.

jacobsievers's picture


Igor Freiberger's picture

This is another good reason to have petite caps in fonts.

Names like MacDonald, deFirmian, PostgreSQL, GBOEx, GmbH, MySQL, myISAM, etc. take advantage of small + petite caps. Unhappily, by now there are less than half a dozen fonts available with this feature.

Té Rowan's picture

Does that include Bhikkhu Pesala's output?

Igor Freiberger's picture

Not. So there are actually a dozen fonts with petite caps. Anyway, IMHO just Vesper Pro offers high quality, integrated petite caps usable to professional printings.

riccard0's picture

there are actually a dozen fonts with petite caps

Now there's one more:

Igor Freiberger's picture

And a second high quality option. Nice.

jacobsievers's picture

Way to go Nina! Most awesome.

nina's picture

I'm so glad someone is finding the petite caps useful. I was doubting my sanity making those. :-)

For what it's worth, I should maybe note here that the petite caps in FF Ernestine don't exactly line up with the x-line (as I've heard some people define petite caps to do) – they're slightly above. Lining them up with the x-line just made them way too tiny. They're basically just smaller small caps.

hrant's picture

Another reason to not line them up is that some of them (like
C and S) become nearly impossible to distinguish from the lc.


eliason's picture

Are there situations where that indistinguishability would be a problem?

hrant's picture

Sure, like pluralizing an acronym.
Anyway really, if something can go wrong it will. :-)


nina's picture

Agreed. Actually pluralizing acronyms is one good reason why smallcaps should generally be noticeably taller than x-height, in my book.

eliason's picture

That makes sense.

Igor Freiberger's picture

Nina, not only Ernestine is a beautiful, well-crafted font, but the description you used to petite caps (a second, smaller set of small caps) is very good and help people to understand this still obscure resource.

Hrant, I'm not sure if petite caps slight taller than x-height would produce enough distinguishability from the lowercase to easily identify a pluralized acronym. Maybe it would achieve better results in fonts with small x-height (like Mrs. Eaves) than a project like mine –where the somewhat large x-height does not let much room to play with petite height (sample).

Anyway, this is a nice approach to reduce the problem of pluralized acronyms. In my professional area this is one of the worst issues as there are lots of legal acronyms and many admit plural form.

nina's picture

Thank you, Igor!
This is Ernestine, top row with smallcaps, bottom row with petite caps:

Well, the petite caps are a little bit taller than the lc, but maybe the difference is a bit too subtle for text sizes, I'm not sure. If a clear distinction between smallcaps and lowercase is needed I'd recommend the smallcaps.

But yes, «mixed» acronyms (similarly to those Irish names) might be a use case for 2 sizes of smallcaps, like this German beast:

hrant's picture

> better results in fonts with small x-height

Very true.
And the height of the full caps comes into play too.


quadibloc's picture

Pluralizing an acronym? I have seen acronyms typeset in small caps, but that only in British typesetting, not American.

Petite caps are an interesting idea. If small caps are visibly larger than the x-height, lower case could be used when something "smaller" has to be mixed with small caps. Although I admit that might not produce the desired result. And "petite caps" are obviously to be preferred over just mixing point sizes.

But the thing is, of course, that "petite caps" are nonstandard. So word processors wouldn't have a conventional way to handle them (as if most of them could handle small caps, of course, but they should).

If I was doing an Irish telephone directory, of course, I wouldn't paint myself into a corner by doing the names in small caps in the first place. I'd use regular caps (in a smaller size, with leading) and then use small caps where the petite would have been used for that particular visual effect.

And this suggests a thought. What are small caps for? If you need to mix lower-case with small caps, or petite caps with small caps, perhaps you shouldn't be using small caps in the first place. If you need the full corpus of typographical resources, use a smaller type size - that will have a matching lowercase and a matching small caps.

The advantage of this is due to the fact that small caps are heavier and wider than normal caps of the same size. So a corresponding lower case would have to be wide enough to have problems, at least with some typefaces. The petite caps presumably would be just smaller, not heavier and wider still, only partaking in the heaviness and width of the small caps, so they manage well enough.

This is starting to suggest, if not infinite regress, at least something daunting.

Upper case.
Lower case.
Small capitals.

Reduced upper case (X% of cap height, scaled down)
Reduced lower case (X% of the size of lower-case)

Petite caps. (X% of small capitals, scaled down)

So one can choose to use upper case, lower case, and small capitals - with petite caps used within the small capitals - or one can use upper case, lower case, and reduced upper case - with both petite caps and reduced lower case available for use with the reduced upper case.

So "X%" would be the proportion of x-height to small cap height from this logic.

And the "reduced caps" could still be somewhat heavier and wider than caps, rather than being merely scaled down - just not so much so as the regular small caps, so that a coherent lower case could accompany them.

hrant's picture

> What are small caps for?

1) Avoiding acronyms looking too big.
2) Marking hierarchy/grammar in all-caps setting.
3) Decorativeness.


riccard0's picture

This is starting to suggest, if not infinite regress, at least something daunting.

Igor Freiberger's picture

Nina, even the petite caps have a good difference from lowercase in Ernestine. Nice. Besides GmbH, the Italian SpA is also a possible use.

Quadibloc, acronyms with plural are quite common. The SUVs example Nina used is almost global these days. In Spanish and Portuguese there are tons of these. An almost universal acronym in Spanish is BsAs, meaning Buenos Aires, a tricky one to set properly.

In answer to your question what are small caps for?, I could add:

04. Set proper names. In some areas and cultures it's usual to detach with UC/SC the name of a relevant author. Indexes and bibliographical lists also adopt this with some frequency.

05. Achieve another level of subtitle without using bold.

06. Combine with oldstyle numbers in mixed expressions.

About small and petite caps, two other interesting topics: extra small caps and plural words.

Theo T's picture

Pretty simple: I learned this at an early age from family - for Scottish or Irish names using Mac or Mc, it's proper to use a basic lower case (or petite cap should be fine) for the 'ac' or 'c'. MacDonald/McDonald; MacDONALD/McDONALD


Frode Bo Helland's picture

Acronyms: Or when the style guide specifies small caps for a publication name.

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