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Context: In French, some last names have an aristocratic particle (e.g. Alfred de Musset). The latter is yet ommited when one refers to a person via its last name only. One would for example say:

Musset was a French dramatist.*
La Confession d'un enfant du siècle of Musset.

(Note that there are some exception in the case of a mono-syllabic name (e.g. "De Gaulle was the first president of the fifth French Republique") or some "d-based" particles ("Du Guesclin died in 1380").

Question: Does this rule exists in English? And what about aristocratic particle from other languages (notably von, van, van den, etc.)?


*And not "De Musset was a French dramatist."

  • In my experience (as a native BrE speaker) it tends to be left in. I don't know whether there are any rules or guidelines though. – SteveES May 25 '17 at 15:29
  • Plus ça change... Apparently, Lord Essex has been more common than Lord of Essex for a couple of centuries. And although David Essex was actually born in Essex, nobody would normally call him David of Essex. – FumbleFingers May 25 '17 at 15:43
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    We usually write people's names (foreign or "Anglicised") how they themselves write them. It's just common courtesy - same as we usually pronounce a person's name the same way that person does (unless it's Gerard 't Hooft, obviously! :) – FumbleFingers May 25 '17 at 15:48
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    @BenKovitz I waited too long before reading differences between ELL and ELU (1 and 2), and I'm still not confident when choosing the right site to ask (-; But it might indeed rather belong to ELU... – ebosi May 25 '17 at 17:38
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I looked up The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). This issue is addressed in §§ 8.7 -- 8.17.
Here are examples they give:

  • French/Spanish names:
    • Alfred de Musset → Musset
    • Tomas de Torquemada → Torquemada
    • Jean d'Alembert → d'Alembert
    • Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle → La Salle
  • German/Portugese names:
    • Alexander von Humboldt → Humboldt
    • Ludwig van Beethoven → Beethoven
    • Agostinho da Silva → Silva
  • Italian names:
    • Gabriele D'Annunzio → D'Annunzio
    • Beatrice d'Este → Este (note the lower case d in the full name.)
  • Dutch names:
    • Vincent van Gogh → Van Gogh

In addition to these rules is the exception that, if another form is the person's preferred one or the commonly used one, this should be respected (e.g. Vasco da Gama → da Gama).

Basically, most language have a rule similar to French, except in Dutch where particules are always capitalized and in Italian where it depends on the full name capitalization.

  • The Chicago Manual of Style also suggests using the Merriam Webster Biographical Dictionary (or similar). – Xanne May 26 '17 at 21:39
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In general the small bits are kept with the name.

At the firm GMO, the principals are:

Jeremy Grantham
Richard Mayo
Eyk van Oterloo

The firm is referred to as Grantham, Mayo, van Oterloo.

Another example is

Denise van Outen

Late the same year, Van Outen appeared as one of many special guest stars in a performance of The Play What I Wrote once again in London's West End.

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