When referring to people, often they are named by their surname only (no titles, first names or initials if the surname alone would unambiguously denote the person in a context. E.g. Haydn, Merkel.
Some surnames contain the prefix "von" (or similar forms like "vom"/"von dem"). Surnames of non-German origin can have equivalent forms (e.g. Dutch "van", Italian "di", etc. etc.).
In German, the "von" has 2 origins:
- Strictly denoting origin (literally meaning "of" or "from") with a place names. As such strictly part of the surname proper (e.g. Erich von Däniken);
- Added to the surname upon ennoblement (meaning "of the house of"). After the abolishment of the nobility in 1919 - either becoming part of the surname proper (Germany) or being dropped (Austria). (e.g. Friedrich von Schiller)
I understand for alphabetization purposes the word without the preposition(s) is considered (D for Däniken, S for Schiller), as it is done in the Netherlands, while in e.g. Belgium and South Africa the "V" of "van" is used for this purpose.
With all this in mind, I see that often a person is denoted by his surname without the preposition(s) (e.g. Beethoven, Goethe) irrespective whether it is a commoner surname or denoting nobility - but cases can also be found where it is included (e.g. Von Hindenburg vs. the ill-fated dirigible Hindenburg).
(Beethoven provides an interesting example since the surname Van Beethoven is of Dutch origin and the "van" has not been germanized to "von", although the composer is considered German since being in the 3rd generation.)
Is there any rule or style guide clarifying how this (the dropping or retaining of prepositions like "von") is best done? Is it up to the whim of the author? Also, is there a reasoning behind a particular style?
I am asking particularly about German usage. I am aware of the same sort of process in other languages (e.g. William of Occam => Occam's Razor, Rene Descartes => Cartesian Coordinates, etc. but also Da Vinci for Leonardo.)