Mac and Mc together

A convention of sorting names with the Scottish and Irish patronymic prefixes Mac and Mc together persists in library science and archival practice. An example is from the Archives at the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.[1] It is also applied in areas such as voter registration, where Mac and Mc names may be sorted together in a listing.[2] Technically this is a convention in collation.

On the other hand, ASCII is a computer standard and its corresponding sorting is gradually replacing this exception to ordinary alphabetisation. Rules once used for filing have been dropped for some newer computer systems, and the interfiling of Mac and Mc names is an example, according to a 2006 book.[3]

There are in fact a number of options. In addition to sorting them under "Mac" and "Mc" respectively or choosing to sort them both under "Mc", it is known for Mc/Mac names to be placed in position before M.[4]


This topic has a complicated and disparate history, spread over different continents and relating to different areas of indexing, cataloguing and filing. The idea of a collating sequence itself has evolved, over time, and the "Mac and Mc" together example has been taken as representative of a possible paradigm.

Obsolete filing rules

A book on filing rules from 1918 gives an example showing Mc and M' treated as abbreviations, i.e. for Mac, and ordered as if in the expanded version;[5] and a similar book from 1922 makes the rule one of a number that apply also to St. (Saint) and Mrs. (Mistress).[6]

An older UK view on alphabetisation and standardisation

A 1938 book that is a comparative study of cataloguing in various British libraries regarded Mac + Mc + M' sorting as an example of achieved "standardisation" in alphabetisation. It gave further examples where, it argued, such standardisation would be beneficial. One example was

ä → ae

in the sense of alphabetising any word with ä as if the letter were replaced by "ae". Other examples given are the replacement of Sainte by "Saint" to accommodate the French adjective in its feminine form; or Archives in journal titles by "Archive". The example of the Fitz prefix, a Norman French patronymic, is applied by ignoring the following space, which may or may not occur.[7] The technical terms the author applies are "letter by letter" or "all through" for the case where spaces are ignored, and "word by word" or "nothing before something" for the case where space comes before A in the alphabet.[8] In actual practice, some indexes, such as the British Union Catalogue of Periodicals, did practice such extensive standardisation. Sometimes by various technical devices such as replacing terms with conventional abbreviations that would be the same in all languages.

A US library view (1942) for card sorting

Donald Knuth in vol. 3 of his The Art of Computer Programming gave a listing showing the operation of around 40 rules, of which "Mc = Mac" was one, for library card sorting. He was citing the American Library Association Rules for Filing Catalog Cards (1942).[9] According to the ALA wiki, it maintains in print two publications on filing rules, one covering that "word-by-word" convention, and another prepared in 1980 that is "letter-by-letter".[10] A 1998 book attributes the changes to the rules to computer informatics, and notes the Mac/Mc change as its first example.[11]

Examples from the recent past

1982's Scottish Roots, a guide for family history researchers, warns that older Scottish records do not in fact follow this convention, unlike contemporary telephone directories.[12] A 2001 book of New York Times theatre reviews sorts Mc names as if spelled Mac.[13] A 2002 official document for the State of Vermont recommends explicitly no special treatment for Mac and Mc.[14] A 2007 book in its tenth edition states that "most library catalogs" sort Mac and Mc names as if spelled M-a-c.[15]

Other contemporary standards

Among the guides which generally recommend separating Mac and Mc so that names will be sorted as they are spelled are ISO 999,[16] The Chicago Manual of Style,[16] Butcher's Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders,[17] The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage,[18] and The SBL Handbook of Style.[19]


  • John Leonard Thornton (1938). Cataloguing in Special Libraries: A survey of methods. Grafton. Retrieved 25 June 2012.


  1., Processing Manual > Chapter IV. Composing Folder Descriptions Mc IV.D.3.d)Mc and Mac, St. and Saint.
  2., Voter Registration Processing
  3. Carolyn E. Wolf (28 February 2006). Basic Library Skills. McFarland. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-7864-2635-5. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  4., UCL Institute of Archaeology, Coursework Guidelines, Rules for Referencing.
  5. Winifred Glen Barnstead, Filing Rules for Dictionary Catalogues (1918),
  6. Cleveland Public Library (Bertha Rickenbrode Barden), Filing Rules for the Arrangement of the Dictionary Catalogs of the Cleveland Public Library (1922), p. 9;
  7. Thornton, pp. 243–4.
  8. Thornton, p. 239.
  9. Donald Knuth, Sorting and Searching (1973) pp. 7–9.
  10., Filing Rules.
  11. Ann Wasman (1 July 1998). New Steps to Service: Common-Sense Advice for the School Library Media Specialist. ALA Editions. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-8389-3483-8. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  12. Alwyn James (1 April 1982). Scottish Roots: A Step-By-Step Guide for Ancestor Hunters. Pelican Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-88289-802-5. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  13. New York Times (2 January 2001). The New York Times Theater Reviews 1997–1998. Psychology Press. p. 431. ISBN 978-0-8153-3341-8. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  14. Best Practice Standards for Indexing Land Instruments, May 2002;PDF, at p. 26.
  15. W. Royce Adams; Becky Patterson (5 January 2007). Developing Reading Versatility. Cengage Learning. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-4130-2961-1. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
  16. Mulvany, Nancy C. (2005). Indexing Books (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 164. ISBN 0226552764. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  17. Butcher, Judith; et al. (2006). Butcher's Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Copy-editors and Proofreaders. Cambridge University Press. p. 195. ISBN 1139459899. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  18. Siegal, Allan M.; William G. Connolly (1999). The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. New York: Three Rivers Press. p. 17. ISBN 081296389X. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
  19. Patrick H. Alexander; et al., eds. (1999). The SBL Handbook of Style: For Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers. p. 35. ISBN 9781565634879. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
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