Is the hyphen the 27th character of the alphabet? When alphabetizing a list of words with and without hyphens, the grammatical order can be confusing. The rule of alphabetizing words that contain hyphens is simple: ignore the hyphen. All major style guides including the Modern Language Association, American Psychological Association and the Chicago Manual of Style agree that writers should alphabetize hyphenated names beginning with the first letter of the first name in the sequence without attention to hyphens.

Hyphenated Words

While many hyphenated words are proper names, there are additional compound words that are hyphenated as well. A compound word is defined as two or more words functioning as a one-word meaning. Not all compound words are hyphenated, and this includes open and closed compound words. Hyphenated compound words include phrases like “one-word” where both words depend on the other one for definition. Some word compounds are also always hyphenated independent of their function in a sentence as an adjective or adverb.

Hyphenated Names

Hyphenated proper names also function grammatically as a hyphenated word combo would – they act as if they're one word with a singular function. In lists of names where hyphenated and similar non-hyphenated names occur, it can initially be confusing to alphabetize the names and/or hyphenated combo words. Some people make the decision to hyphenate their maiden and married names, while other couples leave the two names in compound form or choose one unhyphenated name. An example of a list of non-hyphenated names and hyphenated names and their alphabetized order would be: Jones, Parker-Jones, Smith, Smith-Jones, Young, Young-Jones, Young-Parker. Alphabetically, the name "Jones-Smith" would precede the name "Robinson" or "Smith-Jones" because "Jones-Smith" begins with J, which comes before the letters R and S. In the case of "Young-Parker" and "Young-Lee," the latter name would come first because the letters following the hyphen are P and L with L coming before the letter P. Alphabetizing proper names might come into play on things such as playbills or class lists. As with compound words, the grammatically correct way to alphabetize with hyphenated proper names is to simply disregard the hyphen.

Non-Hyphenated Names or Words Alphabetized Within Hyphenated Words

When alphabetizing in lists, the unhyphenated name "Young" precedes the hyphenated name "Young-Lee,” just as “on” would proceed the compound hyphenated word “on-site.” As an example, the correct alphabetical order of names and compound phrases is: Jones-Smith, on-site, Robinson, Smith Jones, Young, Young-Lee, Young-Parker. By simply looking at the letters and ignoring the hyphens within compound words or hyphenated proper names, the correct way to alphabetize is clear.