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It's Australian dollar and not Australian Dollar, It's Indian rupee and not Indian Rupee, it's Japanese yen and not Japanese Yen and so on.

I know that...

Proper nouns are capitalized.

Aren't they all proper nouns since we are specifically using that name of currency for that country only?

If you say that it's not capitalized as 'dollar' is used for many other countries' currencies and so 'rupee', what about the currency name 'cedi' which only the country of Ghana has for its currency?

In that special case where cedi should mean the currency of Ghana and only Ghana, it's still not Ghana Cedi.

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I strongly doubt names of currencies could be considered as proper nouns in English. First of all they don't have the major characteristic of proper nouns since they can be used with an article. A/the pound sterling, a/the dollar, a/the rupee, a/the yen... –  Laure Feb 15 at 10:00
@Laure You mean personal pronouns don't take articles? In any case? –  Maulik V Feb 15 at 11:08
In English, a proper noun is not normally preceded by an article. It might in very specific cases (e.g. "the London of my childhood has disappeared" ; "the John I'm talking about lives across the street"). –  Laure Feb 15 at 11:20

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Don't think of Australian dollar as a single proper noun. Instead, think of it as a combination of two words, meaning "a dollar that happens to be Australian":

Australianproper adjective + dollarcommon noun

There are lots of kinds of dollars, and we use adjectives like Australian and Canadian to say which sort we're talking about more specifically. There are lots of kinds of rupees, too, and we use adjectives like Indian or Indonesian to specify which sort we mean. Something similar is true of the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan (which are, by the way, etymologically the same word).

Note that in the preceding paragraph I talked about kinds of dollars and kinds of rupees. I didn't just say dollars and rupees, because an individual dollar is a piece of currency! If I have five dollars, I have either five one-dollar bills or I have some other denominations that happen to add up to five dollars. There is no singular dollar—there are many dollars!

Even if the US dollar were the only dollar in existence, the word dollar still wouldn't uniquely identify a single entity. And the same is true of the word cedi. If I have two cedis, I have two hundred pesewas. There is no singular, unique cedi to which the word refers. So semantically speaking, we have no motivation to treat the word as a proper noun. And syntactically, we don't: I can say a cedi or three cedis, just as I can say a dollar or three Australian dollars.

Ultimately, even if it made sense to treat cedi as a proper noun, the fact is, we don't use it like one, so it isn't one. Any additional explanation is just icing on the cake.

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Another way to look at currency names is to think of them as units of measurement.

There are many units of measurement that are derived from people names. And yet, all of them are written in lowercase when they are used as units of measurement. I would say that this is exactly the reason why all currency names are written in lowercase (and usually in uppercase when they are abbreviated).

For example, here is a sentence from a Wikipedia page, Joule:

In terms firstly of base SI units and then in terms of other SI units:
enter image description here
where kg is the kilogram, m is the metre, s is the second, N is the newton, Pa is the pascal, W is the watt, C is the coulomb, and V is the volt.

The units newton, pascal, watt, coulomb, and volt all are derived from a person's name (Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, James Watt, Charles-Augustin de Coulomb, and Alessandro Volta). And yes, when we write them as a unit, for example, 1 joule, we write "1 joule" not "1 Joule". However, when we abbreviate it, we write "1 J".

The same goes to units of currency. We write "200 Australian dollars", not "200 Australian Dollars". We also write "200 AUD", not "200 aud".

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Some would argue that the name of the currency is a proper noun, and it is (or should be) capitalized. But the name of the currency is rarely used. Let me explain:

If I have a dog named "Rover" and I hold him in my arms I can say "I have Rover". But if I hold a dollar in my hand, that specific dollar is not named "Australian Dollar", or "Dollar", so I can't say "I have Australian Dollar" or "I have Dollar". I must say "I have an Australian dollar" (or "I have one Australian dollar"). A dollar is what it is, not what it is named, and "Australian" is just an adjective. So in this context, lowercase dollar is correct.

There is only one currency of that name though. It could well be argued that it should be a proper noun (capitalized) when used to name the currency as a whole, rather than refer to individual units of it. However, even if we enforce that rule, we must still allow "I have 100 Australian dollars" instead of "I have 100 Australian Dollars", because what I have is 100 units of the currency, not 100 currencies all named "Australian Dollar". Also, it would be very odd if required to write "I have 100 Australian Dollars" but "I have 100 dollars". These issues are confusing, and blur the distinction between the supposed proper noun name of the currency and the common noun term(s) used to refer to amounts of the currency.

The name of a currency is used less often than referring to amounts of that currency. But see, for example: "The Australian Dollar (AUD) is the currency unit used in the Commonwealth of Australia...". There it is treated as a proper noun, but not everyone does this; for example: "The Australian dollar, denoted by AUD or A$, is the official currency of the Commonwealth of Australia". Perhaps the lowercase usage is sloppy, but it is not wrong if one interprets "The Australian dollar" not as a proper noun, but as meaning "that dollar which is Australian".

Also realize that terms that are very popularly used can lose their capital letters, even if they should have them, due to careless usage and forgotten origins. See for example on Wikipedia: List of generic and genericized trademarks.

Ultimately, trying to capitalize currencies can cause more confusion than it solves.

For all these reasons, people aren't too fussy about it.

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I would think that when a currency is being referred to in a way that only makes sense when describing it as a singular entity (e.g. "The Australian Dollar rose against the Japanese Yen") it should be capitalized, but in the non-capitalized example you give the text could be referring to the type of notes people carry, rather than to the standard [e.g. the official bird of the USA is the bald eagle--not a particular member of that species, but any member]. –  supercat Aug 20 at 21:37

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