Question: How do you alphabetize your name in bibliographies?

Good question. I can only tell you what my personal rules are.

Many gory details below. But the simple gist is this: my last name is “von Fintel” but it should be alphabetized under “F” (as if the “von” was silent).

There are probably differences between German von, Dutch van, Belgian van, French de and whatever else there is, but I don’t really know much about that. My tendency is to follow my rules for von and van and also for de Swart, but I’m glad there are not many French linguists with de or the like. My colleague Michel DeGraff here at MIT is easier to deal with since the de has become an obvious part of his last name.

So here are my rules:

  • The last name is von Fintel, definitely NOT Fintel (which sounds derogatory to me; it’s what my teachers in high school called me when they wanted to make fun of me).
  • In a running text the v is small.
  • At the beginning of a sentence, it should probably be capitalized. As in “Von Fintel claims that …”. But I should say that it looks very strange to me to see the capital V. So, I tend to avoid starting a sentence that way at almost all costs. (For an interesting related discussion, see Arnold Zwicky’s post on such dilemmas.)
  • Alphabetization works this way: the name in a bibliography is “von Fintel, Kai”, but it is listed under “F”. As far as I know, the other von and van people prefer this as well.

Sort order in bibliographies

I know that this is a problem when creating automatic bibliographies. Before I made the switch to LaTeX, I used Endnote, which definitely put the von and van authors under “v” and then once the bibliography was generated and inserted into the Word document, I had to move the entries by hand to their appropriate places. With LaTeX/BibTeX, there are in principle three ways of correctly alphabetizing von.

Tricking BibTeX

As described in the LaTeX Companion (p. 404), you can force BibTeX to sort on the name without the von. The trick consists of two parts:

  • At the beginning of the .bib-file, write:


  • For each author with a von etc. in the name change their name to the following:

    author = "{\SortNoop{Fintel}}von Fintel, Kai"

What goes on here is that for LaTeX (which reads the .bbl-file generated by BibTeX), the \SortNoop command is defined to be vacuous, so the extra material is thrown away. But BibTeX sees the material and sorts on it.

Generating a better bibstyle

In my mind, this is the best strategy: use Patric Daly’s custom-bib package to generate your own bibliography style. One of the settings that custom-bib lets you choose is whether BibTeX should sort on the von or not. For instructions on how to use custom-bib, read the documentation of the package.

Hacking existing bibliography styles

In principle, it should be possible to slightly modify existing .bst-files (the bibliography style files for BibTeX) to change the treatment of von etc. But I haven’t tried that. I did find one hacker’s description of what to do and another ones as well.


Its probably not a bad idea to check the archives of the comp.text.tex usenet newsgroup for discussions of this issue. Look at the current results of a search for bibtex von. Here are some threads with more or less useful information: