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I have an example here of an article document using pdflatex, bibtex, and natbib, where the Č character for Čermak isn't sorted in the bibliography correctly. I don't understand why not. Both files are encoded as utf-8 by my editor, and the pdf shows the character correctly. If instead I use {\v C} in the bib file, the sorting is correct (so obviously this is my current workaround, but I don't want to have to do it for all my refs if I don't have to).

See \cite{cermak_heat_1985,ingebritsen_sanford_1999}

and the bib file:

  title = {Groundwater in geologic processes},
  publisher = {Cambridge University Press},
  year = {1999},
  author = {Ingebritsen, S. E. and Sanford, Ward E.},
  pages = {341}
  author = {Čermak, Vladimír and Jetel, Ján},
  title = {Heat flow and ground water movement in the {B}ohemian {C}retaceous {B}asin
  journal = {Journal of Geodynamics},
  year = {1985},
  volume = {4},
  pages = {285--303},
  number = {1–4},
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Ahh, my .bib files are full of {\noopsort{ZZZ}}{\v Z}ivanovi{\'c} ... a little trick which sorts Ž "correctly", i.e. not as Z. (\noopsort is of course defined as \providecommand{\noopsort}[1]{}.) I'm also switching bo biblatex/biber as soon as I have the time to go through my .bib files. – Sašo Živanović Feb 21 '13 at 0:56
up vote 7 down vote accepted

BibTeX can not handle UTF8 characters, when it comes to sorting everything must be ASCII. So the Č is ignored in sorting. To deal with other characters, BibTeX has the rule that {\command{C}} is supposed to be a fancy accent, and should be sorted as C. Your options are thus to either switch to biblatex, or encode all author names with the "fancy accent" style:

author = {{\v{C}}ermak, Vladim{\'{\i}}r and Jetel, J{\'a}n}

See also the manual for the ugly details.

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Ah, good one bibtex. Thanks @mafp for the quick answer! I hadn't heard of biblatex, but it looks the goods. – a different ben Feb 21 '13 at 0:27
The problem is that .bib files are a useful resource to share (among colleages, have some common ones for the project, ...), and in that setting you'd better have ASCII-only files (no, BibLaTeX doesn't solve the character encoding problems, you need extra pieces like biber for that; and that one I could never get to even build). – vonbrand Feb 21 '13 at 3:30
Ahh this could be more trouble than it's worth. I have texlive 2009, so no biber pre-installed. I also needed to install biblatex from the Ubuntu repositories as a pre-requisite to biber. biber versions are closely related to biblatex versions, and there are specific compatibilities - see any of the recent biber docs for the compatibility table. The Ubuntu 12.04 (precise) biblatex is v1.7x, so need biber v0.99. I got the binary from sf.net and put it in ~/bin. – a different ben Feb 21 '13 at 3:56
There is a natbib package option for compatibility with natbib citation commands (\citep, \citet). – a different ben Feb 21 '13 at 4:07

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