In the book, "The Crystal Shard," by R.A. Salvatore, a character is surnamed "de Bernezan." Which of the following complete sentences uses the correct English-language capitalization:

  • de Bernezan entered the room.
  • De Bernezan entered the room.

The Wikipedia page on "de Vries" capitalized "De Vries" as a standalone, but writes "Marc de Vries" when using the full name.

Edits in response to comments:

  • The book starts sentences as "de Bernezan," which seems incorrect. Hence my question.
  • The Wikipedia page is neither authoritative nor clear. It seems to refers to "De Vries" as the correct capitalization of the surname, except when actually used as a surname. Since I am not Dutch, I do not know how their names work, especially when used in an English-language context. Again, hence my question.
  • 3
    And why is that not your answer?
    – bib
    Jul 18, 2014 at 23:40
  • 1
    The rule is: capitalize words when they start a sentence. The only exception I know of is Dutch names that start with 't. Jul 18, 2014 at 23:46
  • 2
    In fact the book itself is likely to answer the question.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 18, 2014 at 23:49
  • 1
    From my edits above in response to comments: The book's capitalization is "de Bernezan," which seems incorrect. Since the author (presumably) knows more about language than I do, I thought I'd seek some kind of definitive reference here to resolve the question.
    – Xuor
    Jul 18, 2014 at 23:57
  • One of our regular contributors here is @oerkelens, a native speaker of Dutch (if I am not mistaken). Perhaps he will explain how this issue is handled.
    – Erik Kowal
    Jul 19, 2014 at 3:55

3 Answers 3


Fortunately, The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition) deals with this question on page 388:

8.5 Names with particles. Many names include particles such as de, d', de la, von, van, and ten. Practice with regard to capitalization and spacing the particles varies widely, and confirmation should be sought in a biographical dictionary or other authoritative source. When the surname is used alone, the particle is usually retained, capitalized or lowercased and spaced as in the full name (though always capitalized when beginning a sentence). [emphasis added]

So, following Chicago, the correct sentence is, "De Bernezan entered the room."

The variation in capitalization you found on the De Vries Wikipedia page is explained by the Chicago rule for Dutch names used in an English context (page 390):

8.10 Dutch names. In English usage, the particles van, van den, ter, and the like are lowercased when full names are given but usually capitalized when only the last name is used.

Johannes van Keulen; Van Keulen

Pieter van den Keere; Van den Keere

Vincent van Gogh; Van Gogh

Gerard ter Borch; Ter Borch


The case of a reference list of an academic paper will be covered in my answer. (Sorry, not directly relevant to the OP, but this question is redirected here.)

APA Style says, according to APA Style Blog: How to Capitalize Author Names in APA Style, in a reference list, lowercase is retained:

de Haan, A. D., Deković, M., & Prinzie, P. (2012). Longitudinal impact of parental and adolescent personality on parenting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 189–199. doi:10.1037/a0025254

APA Style agrees with the Chicago Manual for the sentence beginning. After a colon capitalization is necessary, too. Thus:

  • De Haan, Deković, and Prinzie (2012) studied the impact of parental and adolescent personality on parenting.
  • Recently, researchers have explored the impact of personality on parenting: De Haan, Deković, and Prinzie (2012) used longitudinal analyses to untangle the effects.
  • This is consistent with the rule "capitalize when the surname appears alone," as long as one considers that being followed by given name or initial is not "alone." There's no need to consider whether there's a colon. Does APA keep the D in miniscule if "De Haan, Deković, and Prinzie" appears elsewhere, as in "this observation is due to De Haan, Deković, and Prinzie"?
    – phoog
    Apr 18 at 19:53

The capitalization rule for Dutch surnames is given here on the website of the Nederlandse Taalunie (the Dutch-Belgian authority for matters orthographic). This is in Dutch but one can translate it with the translation facility in Google (right-click on the page and select the translation option).

The general rule is that surnames are given a capital initial letter. An important exception is that if the surname starts with a preposition ("van") or an article ("de"), and is preceded by a given name, an initial, or another family name, it is not capitalized. This is a source of much confusion in Anglophone circles. Example: Piet de Haan is a member of the De Haan family.

  • The snag is that each language adapts even proper names, so that pronunciations, spellings, even forms may differ between countries. Paris isn't pronounced the French way in England. Londres and Douvres aren't even spelled the English way in France. Milano becomes Milan. German common nouns aren't automatically capitalised in English, even if they are adopted as loan words. The bottom line is that a recognised authority in one country may not be recognised as such in another. Apr 18 at 11:19

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