United States Board on Geographic Names

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The United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) is an American federal body whose purpose is to establish and maintain uniform usage of geographic names throughout the U.S. government.

The Board was created in 1890; its present form derives from a law of 1947. Under the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, National Mapping Division, BGN was created by presidential order:

President Benjamin Harrison signed an Executive Order on September 4, 1890, establishing the United States Board on Geographic Names. The Board was given authority to resolve all unsettled questions concerning geographic names. Decisions of the Board were accepted as binding by all departments and agencies of the Federal Government.

The Board has developed principles, policies, and procedures governing the use of both domestic and foreign geographic names. It also deals with the names of geographical features underseas and in Antarctica.

Although its official purpose is to resolve name problems and new name proposals for the federal government, the Board also plays a similar role for the general public. Any person or organization, public or private, may make inquiries or request the Board to render formal decisions on proposed new names, proposed name changes, or names that are in conflict. Generally, the BGN defers federal name use to comply with local usage. There are a few exceptions. For example, in rare cases where a locally-used name is very offensive, the BGN may decide against adoption of the local name for federal use.

In federal mapping and names collection efforts, there is often a phase lag where a delay occurs in adoption of a locally-used name. Sometimes the delay is several decades. Volunteers in the Earth Science Corps are used to assist the U.S. Geological Survey in collecting names of geographic features.

The National Geographic Names Database is part of a system which includes topographic map names and bibliographic references. The names of books and historic maps which confirm the feature or place name are cited. Variant names, alternatives to official federal names for a feature, are also recorded.


Other authorities

  • The Bureau of the Census defines Census Designated Places which are a subset of locations in the National Geographic Names Database.
  • U.S. Postal Service Publication 28 gives standards for addressing mail. In this publication, the postal service defines two-letter state abbreviations, street identifiers such as boulevard (BLVD) and street (ST), and secondary identifiers such as suite (STE).
  • The names of Post Offices have historically been used to back up claims about the name of a community.


  • U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, National Mapping Division, Digital Gazeteer: Users Manual, (Reston, Virginia: U.S. Geological Survey, 1994).
  • Report: "Countries, Dependencies, Areas Of Special Sovereignty, And Their Principal Administrative Divisions," Federal Information Processing Standards, FIPS 10-4.
  • Report: "Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names," U.S. Board of Geographic Names, 1997.
  • U.S. Postal Service Publication 28, November 2000.

See also

  • BGN/PCGN romanization, a system for rendering geographic names in other writing systems into the Latin alphabet

External links


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