Dutch surnames are kind of weird, in that a lot of them start with small words such as de/'t/het ("the"), van ("of"), van 't, van der ("of the"), etc. This makes them a pain to enter in most address books, since you really want to ignore that part of the name when sorting, but not when displaying. This means you get "Piet Vries" instead of "Piet de Vries".

While Address Book has the "middle name" field, which can be abused for this, it really isn't meant for it, causing some applications (iCal, for example) to ignore the field, showing an incomplete name.

iTunes solves this problem for artist and album names, giving you a "sort album" or "sort artist" field to enter a string to sort on (so "The Beatles" are sorted as if they're called "Beatles"). I haven't been able to find a similar field in Address book.

So, what is the correct way to make Address Book deal with this?

  • @Thomas - you added [locale] and [collation] tags, but neither really fits. The question can apply to any location (Dutch-surnamed people can live anywhere in the world + Dutch people aren't the only ones with multi-word surnames). And it's not clear that @Sietse is collating anything—or at least nothing that [sort] doesn't describe equally well. My removals aren't anything against you; it's just that I don't think those tag additions were helpful.
    – Dori
    Dec 14, 2010 at 2:10
  • @Dori - [van Dyke] and [von Buren] will sort differently depending on the users' preferences. Addressing these programs programmatically is the problem of Collation. See the Wikipedia article on Collation here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collation#Name.2Fsurname_ordering. See in that article under Alphabetical order the example of McKinley and Mackintosh. The OP mentions "you want to ignore the small words when sorting," and this is precisely a problem of collation as it applies to a locale. See goo.gl/16jrQ. Dec 14, 2010 at 3:22
  • Dutch people… what can you expect ;-) for the record, in Spanish we have similar problems although not exactly the same. Dec 14, 2010 at 19:48
  • Another one for the record: Germans also have this problem, but you can change the sorting order to "Phonebook" in system preferences
    – bot47
    Mar 2, 2013 at 14:11

5 Answers 5


My preference is to list their name as something like "Heirseele, van" because when searching by last name you'll still find them using "van" if you decided to. Putting the preposition in another field is a little hackey (and incorrect from a data-integrity point of view) for me.

For the benefit of others: in Dutch, all those prefixes are part of the name. You refer to someone in Dutch as "Meneer van Heirseele" not as "Meneer Heirseele". Those names haven't joined the prepositions like French names have (e.g., Dupré).

Just my two cents…

  • 1
    That's not ideal either, because that make the name look weird. Thanks for the answer though.
    – Sietse
    Dec 10, 2010 at 20:02
  • Oh, btw, "Herr" is German, "Meneer" is Dutch.
    – Sietse
    Dec 10, 2010 at 20:02
  • Natuurlijk! Duh… Ik heb mijn antwoord bewerkt. Dank u.
    – msanford
    Dec 10, 2010 at 20:08
  • Indeed, it's not ideal, but what you're looking for — an ability for Address Book.app to ignore the prepositions in proper names like iTunes ignores "the" in tracks and albums — simply, and sadly, isn't possible. I stand by my answer still because it allows you to keep every word in the family name for searching and indexing purposes. I just enter names as they are "van Heirseele".
    – msanford
    Dec 10, 2010 at 20:10

The better-world answer is that Address Book should allow users to enter Dutch surnames with the tussenvoegsels ..

First name: Rembrandt
Last name: van Rijn

First name: Huig
Last name: de Groot

... and then allow users to specify what collation method to use. That way someone using one collation can exchange contact information with someone using a different collation, and the names will show up where both expect them.

The term for the bundle of preferences which includes grouping and ordering of names, thousands and decimal point indicators, sort order for non-ASCII vowels, etc., is "locale." It's not just the Dutch: Gaelic names treat Mac, Mc and M' as identical.

The Address Book needs work on "locale."


If you don't mind misusing a field, you can use the "Phonetic Last Name" field to change the sort order.

  • That only works in Address Book, not with all stuff (iOS, for example) that uses the contacts from AB.
    – Sietse
    Dec 10, 2010 at 20:05
  • 1
    You should probably add that to your question then ;)
    – Tim
    Dec 13, 2010 at 3:29
  • I like this solution! I don't think it's a misure. Also, works for me in iOS (chinese names, to be specific)
    – Agos
    Dec 14, 2010 at 21:51

I would enter the surname prefixes ("de" etc) into the firstname field.


  • That way, sorting would work correctly regardless whether you prefer sorting by first or last name,
  • the full name is always displayed correctly because it simply combines first + last name,
  • you don't have to fill in additional fields.
  • That makes the name look weird when only the first name is displayed. Still, that doesn't happen too often and solves the problems I mentioned, so +1.
    – Sietse
    Dec 10, 2010 at 20:03
  • @Sietse: How are Dutch names handled in other OS'es / programs? Apr 16, 2012 at 11:15
  • Horribly, usually ;-) But seriously - most international software doesn't support it, but Dutch-specific software and website (order forms, etc) have a separate field called "tussenvoegsel" for the name. I recently noticed HipChat doing something cool: when abbreviating the name, it takes the last word. So I end up as "Sietse K." instead of "Sietse d.". This is the only example so far where I've seen it getting the first letter of my last name correct.
    – Sietse
    Apr 17, 2012 at 12:34
  • Oh, and there are some examples where you can enter a "sort field". Examples of this are LDAP (for certain record types) and iTunes (for artist/album/track names).
    – Sietse
    Apr 17, 2012 at 12:38

They've got prefix and suffix fields, so would it really be that hard to have a mid-fix or whatever the correct english term is field?

Google suggests infix or interfix, BTW.

  • Welcome. We ask that people refrain from just saying - please google it, since it presumes the asker knows the terms to search for to start. If you wanted to show what google search terms will work, and explain how to discern which search hits are responsive to the issue - summarizing the links - that's totally fine.
    – bmike
    Mar 2, 2013 at 15:43

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