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Why I Rarely List Authors By Surname (And Other Boring Stories)

A photo of shelved books by Rani Manicka, Maria McCann, and Daphne du Maurier

Whilst typing up my latest ‘latest acquisitions’ post, I wondered if it was about time, if indeed time was necessary, to talk about why I tend to organise my lists by first name. I know that in the majority of cases it’s obvious why a blogger has organised their lists in a particular way (by year read makes sense, as do titles and genres) but my decision to list authors by first name or initial, rather than surname, strikes even myself as a bit… off.

This post is possibly going to make me look rather silly, if my current phase of poor proof-reading hasn’t already, but I’ve come to see the value in honesty and if it causes even a single sentence of discussion in the comments then it will have been worth it. I know I’m not the only one confused, even if I’m the only one still confused at my age when they ought to be well-versed already.

My primary reason for listing by first name, when I do, is that it’s often difficult to tell which name is the first and which is the surname. Every now and then this might be the result of a foreign name (for example Chinese names – the words are often used in both first and last names). Generally, however, it’s a case of not being completely sure if three words denote first name, second name, and surname, or first name and double-barrelled surname. When a name contains a hyphen, it’s easy, when it doesn’t, it’s not always obvious which is which.

In blogging I finally got over my long-standing problem of not knowing how to order Mc’s and Ma’s, or names that are the same but for a space. Yet occasionally I have an off day, forgetting whether McGarry should come before Manicka, whether Daphne du Maurier ought to be under D or M (actually, I’m still not sure on that one) and, even more rarely, Chad [space] Wick to Chadwick. These days are far and few between, but they’ve happened enough that it’s lead to me being unable to find an entry on a page due to an ‘off’ day previously.

My review database, is listed by surname. It’s flawed and far from a labour of love in itself. However I reckon choosing to list by surname there is the best option for me.

As for ‘other stories’ I thought it might be useful to say why I only refer to an author’s surname in the content of my reviews, not their first name (unless I have reason to refer to someone else with the same name in that post, for example Charlotte and Emily Brontë). I’ve always liked the way academics and journalists write their reviews, how formal and proper it sounds. And as much as I wouldn’t mind using the entire name, that would become particularly repetitive. Google would hate it (though I do wish we didn’t have to worry about Google thinking we’re trying to gain the system).

These are my reasons in all their dull glory. What are your listing preferences and do you have issues with names too?


vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas)

September 23, 2013, 8:40 am

I wanted to list my author list (on a sidebar) by ‘Surname, Firstname’ as that does reflect my academic training and it’s easier to find them too – but was foiled by blogger’s authoritarian stance on commas as list dividers, so had to go for ‘Firstname Surname’. I’ve never liked it and keep meaning to find a workaround, but am too lazy. I don’t think too much about how using just the surname in reviews might sound nowadays, but I can tell you it was a hell of a shock when I first saw my surname used like that in an academic review. It does have an air of brutality! ;-)


September 23, 2013, 12:51 pm

I never struggled with listing authors by surname and referring to them the same way after years of practice. Last night, though, I was trying to write about a book in which the authors refer to themselves by their first names. I actually had to go back and remove all the name references and replace them with first names.

Tanya Patrice

September 23, 2013, 1:02 pm

1. I’m in awe of that review database – flawed or not. I don’t even think I could undertake such a task, so thank goodness for Goodreads.

2. I don’t organize my books at all. Just throw them in the bookshelf * yikes *

Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

September 23, 2013, 1:37 pm

My review data base is ordered by surname, but I also get confused about names and know I have got it wrong on occasion. I agree that the Asian nams are often the ones that throw me. I try really hard to get it right, but so many countries have different rules. Hopefully one day I’ll master it!


September 23, 2013, 4:31 pm

I don’t have a review database but when I do need to list I tend to opt for listing alphabetically by surname. I can totally sympathise with all your points though especially about Daphne du Maurier. I am glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t know if she should go under D or M!

Katie @ Doing Dewey

September 23, 2013, 10:58 pm

I used to order my physical books by surname but lately I’ve found it more aesthetically appealing to organize by non-fiction favorites, fiction favorites, and ARCs. It’s less organized but I don’t have so many books it’s hard to find things. On the blog, I still organize by surname but my database is very out of date! I have a more current version ordering non-fiction by dewey decimal number as well.

Jenny @ Reading the End

September 24, 2013, 1:05 am

A side effect of working in publishing is that you get into the inalterable habit of listing everyone by surname. I alphabetize everything mentally anyway. Another side effect is that you have very fixed ideas about how alphabetization should go — I am unphased by McAnything or Macanything. Thanks, job in publishing, for making me slightly more anal than I already was. :p


September 24, 2013, 9:23 am

Fascinating post, Charlie! I would also like to know whether Daphne du Maurier’s books should be filed under ‘D’ or ‘M’. Do let me know when you find out. I agree with you on Chinese names – Chinese traditionally write their last names first and their first names last an so sometimes it is confusing which is the writer’s last name. I am not really that good at organizing books, but whenever I try to do, sometimes I tend to do it with respect to the author’s surname. Of course the broader kind of organization is also there at times – all French books together, all German books together, all humorous books together, all YA books together.


September 24, 2013, 3:26 pm

Ha ha, love this admission Charlie ;) I organize by surname but I would bet I have plenty of the names WRONG!


September 25, 2013, 9:18 pm

I list by preference, which I think is pretty pretentious really, but I don’t have the space to order by surname even if I wanted to.

It bugs me when shelves are organised by colour, I always wonder how they can find the book they are after.

Literary Feline

September 26, 2013, 4:54 pm

Your system makes sense! My confusion always comes in with the Chinese names and knowing which name is the first and which is the surname.

I tend to list and organize my books by authors last name. My shelves are divided by genre as well. Except my daughter’s shelves. They are all mixed up. That’s partly her fault and partly mine. I knew right off trying to keep her shelves organized would be impossible. LOL



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