I would like to choose the first 4 or 8 products to display in a category or vendor listing and then have the rest sort by name.
Can this be done?
Go to Catalog -> Manage Categories - select category from the tree and open the tab 'Category Products' and there you will see column to set position for images.
For 4 or 8 products to display in a category first set positions from 1 to 8, for other goods set 10 or 100.
You can check this article on how to massively sort products within category using Store Manager for Magento extension -