An American Editor

July 24, 2020

AAE columnist to present “Indexing: Arabic Names” webinar for ASI on August 12

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 1:23 pm

By Ælfwine Mischler

I will present a webinar about “Indexing Arabic Names: What Everyone Needs to Know” for the American Society for Indexing (ASI) at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. This article is only the beginning of what you will learn in the webinar.

Definitive approach to definite articles

In my earlier series about romanized Arabic in English texts, I wrote my blog posts “Spelling the Definite Article” and “Omitting, Capitalizing, and Alphabetizing the Definite Article” primarily for copyeditors. By the time the PDF of a book goes to the indexer, the decisions on whether to include the definite article and how to spell it have been made. This might not be the case if a book has an embedded index, which is often written while the book is still being copyedited — or worse, before the manuscript is submitted to the publisher.

Indexers have other concerns with the definite article. The first that comes to mind is how to deal with the article when it comes at the beginning of an entry, whether a main entry or a subentry (also called main head and subhead. See my post “Basic Vocabulary.”)

Publishers vary in how they treat the article at the beginning of a main entry. Some want the article cut off there and tacked on at the end of the name (Hakim, Tawfiq al-), while others want the article to remain in place but be ignored in sorting (al-Hakim, Tawfiq alphabetized under H).

In a subentry, The Chicago Manual of Style, which many U.S. publishers follow, suggests that in a run-in index, most often found in scholarly books, the definite article be left in place and ignored in sorting. In an indented index, however, the article should be moved to the end of the name. If the publisher keeps the article in place and ignores it in the main entry, I do the same in the subentry in both run-in and indented indexes.

But the beginning of an entry is not the only position where indexers have to worry about the definite article in Arabic names. It appears as part of the second element in many compound names and should also be ignored in sorting. If there are a lot of such names in an index, it is better to sort word by word rather than letter by letter. (See “The ABCs of Alphabetizing.”)

Here are some examples of sorting with different treatments of the definite article. After the long vowel in Abi, the vowel of the article is elided and replaced with an apostrophe in this style of transcription. (For simplification, I am not using diacritics in these names.)

Note how the two names Ibn Abi Khisal and Ibn Abi ’l-Khisal sort relative to each other. These are probably the same person, but the author was a bit careless in writing the name with and without a definite article. When the two names sort one after the other, the author is more likely to see the error (if it was an error) and can tell the indexer to merge the entries.

In the following examples, the articles and ibn (son of) have been ignored but the sorting is different. The advantage of word-by-word sorting becomes apparent when you have a mixture of classical and modern Arabic names, as I have here. When readers are scanning a long list of names beginning with ‘Abd or one of its modern variants, they are more likely to see the variants when those fall together with word-by-word sorting.

This article is only the beginning of what you need to know when indexing Arabic names. In recent weeks, I have looked at a lot of indexes containing Arabic names, and there is a lot that indexers and editors should learn. The link to take my webinar, “Indexing Arabic Names: What Everyone Should Know,” is available on the American Society for Indexing website. A recording of the webinar will be available to registrants, and it will be available for purchase later on the ASI Webinar page.


Ælfwine Mischler is an American copyeditor and indexer in Cairo, Egypt, who has been the head copyeditor at a large Islamic website and a senior editor for an EFL textbook publisher. She often edits and indexes books about Islamic studies, Middle East studies, and Egyptology.

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