ISC Conference 2012, Day 1—The glory and the nothing of a name

Noeline Bridge is the editor Indexing Names, a book fresh off the press. She spoke today at the ISC conference about proper noun indexing, particularly the tricky problems that arise from people’s names.

Determining the order of the elements of a name with multiple components is the basic problem that a proper noun indexer must solve. For example, the indexer must know that many medieval names and names that indicate a patronymic are typically left as is and that German names with “von” are traditionally indexed under the part that follows “von.” Bridge gave attendees an extremely useful list of resources that guide the practice with respect to inverting names in a variety of languages.

Deciding how much information to include and exclude is also an indexer’s judgment call. We have to be sensitive to what a publisher or author may want. For instance, one of Bridge’s publisher clients insisted that all military titles be included. Bridge occasionally adds glosses with qualifying phrases for added specificity. As an index user, she explains, she likes to know right away which entries refer to human beings and which ones do not, and the glosses help establish that.

Be careful for parts of a name that may be titles or honorifics. If an author uses only one name to refer to a person (e.g., Batista, versus Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar), one school of thought is that that’s all you need to include, but Bridge often prefers to look up and include all components of that person’s name for completeness.

Bridge uses glosses to help distinguish between people with similar names (a situation that comes up often in family histories or local histories) by place, by occupation, or by relationship. She uses these to keep them straight for herself and often simply leaves them in to help the reader. Sometimes she uses a family tree program to keep track of whom the text is referring to if there are many generations of people with the same name.

Changes in name can be a complicated category, because in some cases—for instance, when a writer adopts a pseudonym—the person is adopting a different persona, and an argument can be made to index these separately. In cases where a name evolves, once again, the indexer must use judgment to decide whether to use the most recent name/title or the one used predominantly in the book.

In the case of transliteration and romanization, the decision usually has been made for you by the author regarding spelling. An exception is when you have a collection or anthology with different authors on overlapping topics.

A theme throughout Bridge’s talk was that you must be prepared to yield tactfully an author’s preferences, and you must be sensitive to context. For example, whereas you would usually index a celebrity under a name by which she is most commonly known, at times it may be appropriate to use her birth name if you’re indexing a book about her family history.

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