Change How Contacts Sorts and Displays Names on Mac

Aug 12, 2016 - 6 Comments

Contacts app in Mac OS X

The Contacts app for Mac defaults to sorting names by last name, and to showing the first name before the last name when browsing through the address book list of contacts.

With some minor adjustments, you can change how the Contacts app displays and sorts the address book contact names in Mac OS. You can also choose to change how names display, without changing how names sort, which may be the more useful settings choice for some.

Change Contacts Display and Sorting Order in Mac OS

  1. Open the “Contacts” app on the Mac and pull down the Contacts menu and choose Preferences
  2. Under the ‘General’ tab look for the following options:
    • Show First Name – Before last name, Following last name
    • Sort by: Last Name, First Name


  3. Choose whichever display and sorting method you’d prefer for changes to take immediate effect

The effect for changing how names are shown basically switches the first name and the last name when seen in the Contacts list. Here is what this look like in real time with an animated GIF displaying the change:

In browsing through Contacts app, or after searching for a contact, the choices may look like the following:




Many users find showing the last name first is easier to navigate, since it resembles a traditional directory or phone book, and it can be particularly helpful for some societies and cultures where names are often the same or similar.

You can make similar changes to how Contacts show up and sort in the iOS Contacts app as well, so if you’d like to have names show by last name first or sort by first name or last name, you can make the same sort of adjustments on iPhone and iPad.


Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Frederic says:

    Thanks for the tip but how can one make similar changes to how Contacts show up and sort in the iOS Contacts app as well?
    Sorry but there is no “preferences” option in IOS for the app contact (unless I am missing something?)

    • Joost Dancet says:

      (for Frederic)
      Similar changes can be made for the Contact app in iOS:
      Settings app > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Contacts

      (for curtius)
      It can be due to the fields you have used. You may have written down the last name of a contact in the first name field …

  2. RamBhat says:

    Apple has screwed up on this for years and probably not aware of this. I am not sure whether the problem is due to iOS or MacOS. In Mac the address book works as per custom configuration. But in my iPhone “Home phone No” comes on the top and “Mobile No” goes below, this for all of my contacts. Is it problem specific to “Kuwait” region? Is there any fix for this? If you have any fix kindly help. (i am unable to send you a screenshot, kindly add a field here)

    • Lisbon Mile says:

      There’s an app for iPhone called Reorder It! – this enables you to change which phone no and/or email address appears first if a contact has multiple fields. Like you, I didn’t like the seemingly random order iOS assigns to these fields, but this wonderful free app fixed it for me!

  3. curtius says:

    I tried to change Contacts Display and Sorting Order in Mac OS 10.9.5 so that last names are shown first, however not all, about 25%, did not show last names first. What do I need to do to consistently change to list last name first.?

  4. Wharf Xanadu says:

    I like the default sorting

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