How do you alphabetically sort German names when a list contains last names starting with "Von ...", "De ...", "Van ..." etc.?

Also, how are words with umlauts (ä, ö, ü) and other diacritical characters handled?

For example, how would you sort the following list?

Anton Mustermann, Felix Dörfener, John von Neumann, Johannes Dorfer, Hans de Maizière, Ludwig van Beethoven

  • I see two questions here, which could and should be answered independently, while sharing the theme 'sorting'. Can you split them? The tags 'umlaut' and 'diacritics' don't fit for the first part. Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 12:25
  • 1
    Well, in order to correctly sort a list, you have to know both things; so IMHO it has to remain one question.
    – splattne
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 12:59
  • That's not a good argument, because both questions can be answered independently, the tasks don't influence each other. And answers can have different votes; two different, accepted answers, one for each topic. Commented Jul 12, 2011 at 4:00

4 Answers 4


How to handle person's names is a question that's quite common in libraries, for example. The "RAK-WB" ("Regeln für die Alphabetische Katalogisierung - Wissenschaftliche Bibliotheken") have a sophisticated system how to handle a person's name ("Ansetzung"), depending mainly on the nationality of that person. You can find more information on M. Payer's paper on the RAK-WB together with some examples.

Applying those rules should lead to the following list (same sorting as Christoph wrote already):

  • Beethoven, Ludwig van (preposision follows after first name)
  • Dörfener, Felix (ö is handled as oe)
  • Dorfer, Johannes
  • Maizière, Hans de (preposition)
  • Mustermann, Anton
  • von Neumann, John (EDIT: added - sorry for missing him in the beginning)

John von Neumann is a "difficult case" here. He was born as János Neumann Margittai in Budapest (Hungary) and changed his name to "Johann von Neumann" later. After his emigration to the United States, he used the americanized form "John von Neumann". As far as i know, the german RAK-WB rules are applied depending on the last nationality, which is US-american in this case, so his name is treated like an english name with the "von" as part of the last name.


Here is wikipedia's take on the question. Following those rules would sort your list as
Beethoven, Dörfener, Dorfer,de Maizière, Mustermann, von Neumann .

[So sad you're last, John! But you remain my hero in 20th century mathematics :-). More seriously, the Hungarians call him Neumann János: they put family names before first names, and of course John is an Americanization which he adopted when he emigrated to the US]

Personennamen werden in Deutschland häufig (z. B. in Telefonbüchern) in der folgenden Art und Weise alphabetisch sortiert:

  • Zuerst werden die Einträge nach Nachnamen sortiert, wobei akademische Grade wie „Prof.“, „Dr.“ und Namenszusätze „von“, „vor“, „am“, „zum“ weggelassen werden. Dabei ist zu beachten, dass Namenszusätze auch aus mehreren Wörtern bestehen können, wie etwa bei „von der Lippe“.
  • Bei identischen Nachnamen wird anschließend nach eventuell vorhandenen Namenszusätzen alphabetisch sortiert, wobei Personennamen ohne Namenszusätze immer zuerst aufgeführt werden.
  • Stimmen auch die Namenszusätze überein (oder sind keine vorhanden), wird als letztes anhand des Vornamens alphabetisch sortiert

The whole page might interest you.

  • 1
    I don't know why tohuwawohu and Christoph ignore John von Neumann in their ordering: I suspect some sinister plot is afoot:-) Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 9:40
  • This is interesting, because I just looked into my local phone book and there are a lot of people "von ..." that are listed under V. However, Dörfener and Dorfer are a bad example, because no matter whether ö is treated as oe or as o, Dörfener will be listed before Dorfer. Your link, however, shows that there are actually different rules for this for sorting words and names, respectively. Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 10:25
  • You mention "local phone book", OregonGhost. In which country are you? By the way, I made myself the same remark about Dörfener and Dorfer, but I lazily liked that it made that part of the answer a no-brainer! Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 11:04
  • As my profile suggests, I'm in Germany, and the phone book is for Lübeck. I also noticed that some of the "Von" names start with an upper-case V, while others start with a lower-case V. Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 11:26
  • @Georges : since our sinister plot to silently ignore von Neumann has failed :-) , i've decided to drop that plan and include von Neumann in my reply. Thanks for the hint :)
    – tohuwawohu
    Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 13:22

Diacritical characters can be sorted in two different ways: like in the telephone-book, or like in the Duden.

The Duden sorts them like the normal character, a=ä, o=ö and so on:

  • Muller, Erika
  • Müller, Franziska
  • Mueller, Gerd
  • Müller, Hansi
  • Muller, Inge

but the telephone-book sorts them like ~e: ä=ae, ö=oe

  • Müller, Franziska
  • Mueller, Gerd
  • Müller, Hansi
  • Muller, Erika
  • Muller, Inge

von Damme, van Houten, ob der Tauber, zu Guttenberch is a different question, I don't have answers for.

  • 2
    Yes many languages have specialized sorting rules for telephone books. In English Mc- and Mac- are often (possibly always) sorted together. Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 8:57

I would sort by lastname. I would ignore umlauts, handle ä like a, o like ö and u like ü.

With the starting "Von ", "De " etc. I would also ignore them. My ordering would be:

van Beethoven, Ludwig
Dörfener, Felix
Dorfer, Johannes
de Maizière, Hans
Mustermann, Anton

I don't really know if this is correct, but I would do that this way.

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