Alphabetizing

Q. I’m encountering reference lists that include names that do not use the typical structure of “surname, first name.” Typically I follow CMOS 16.76 (16th ed.) in cases that seem clear. However, in some dialects or cases, there aren’t surnames, exactly, and authors have asked me to keep entries as is, without commas. I find this all very confusing. Would you please advise?

A. When editing non-English names and languages, it’s wise to defer to the writer’s wishes rather than blindly apply rules from a style manual. (CMOS 8.15 [16th ed.] recognizes that Chinese names, for example, usually begin with the family surname rather than the given name—but some people of Chinese origin choose to switch to the common Western order.) Keep a careful record of your writer’s requests and instructions; keep an eye out for anything that looks like a contradiction or ambiguity; query generously; and pass along a memo about the issue to your assigning editor or anyone else who might blame you for problems later!