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The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is a Federal body created in 1890 and established in its present form by Public Law in 1947 to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government. The Board comprises representatives of Federal agencies concerned with geographic information, population, ecology, and management of public lands. Sharing its responsibilities with the Secretary of the Interior, the Board promulgates official geographic feature names with locative attributes as well as principles, policies, and procedures governing the use of domestic names, foreign names, Antarctic names, and undersea feature names.

The original program of names standardization addressed the complex issues of domestic geographic feature names during the surge of exploration, mining, and settlement of western territories after the American Civil War. Inconsistencies and contradictions among many names, spellings, and applications became a serious problem to surveyors, map makers, and scientists who required uniform, non-conflicting geographic nomenclature. President Benjamin Harrison signed an Executive Order establishing the Board and giving it authority to resolve unsettled geographic names questions. Decisions of the Board were accepted as binding by all departments and agencies of the Federal Government.

The Board gradually expanded its interests to include foreign names and other areas of interest to the United States, a process that accelerated during World War II. In 1947, the Board was recreated by Congress in Public_Law_80-242 . The usefulness of standardizing (not regulating) geographic names has been proven time and again, and today more than 50 nations have some type of national names authority. The United Nations stated that "the best method to achieve international standardization is through strong programs of national standardization." Numerous nations established policies relevant to toponomy (the study of names) in their respective countries.

In this age of geographic information systems, the Internet, and homeland defense, geographic names data are even more important and more challenging. Applying the latest technology, the Board on Geographic Names continues its mission. It serves the Federal Government and the public as a central authority to which name problems, name inquiries, name changes, and new name proposals can be directed. In partnership with Federal, State, and local agencies, the Board provides a conduit through which uniform geographic name usage is applied and current names data are promulgated.

For geographic feature names policies applying to the United States, or to the use of foreign geographic names, Antarctica names, and undersea feature names by the United States, see the respective items in the main menu on the left. 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. Minutes of the Board's meetings are available. Communications concerning the Board should be addressed to:

Lou Yost
Executive Secretary
U.S. Board on Geographic Names
U.S. Geological Survey
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, MS 523
Reston, Virginia 20192-0523
Phone: (703) 648-4552
FAX: (703) 648-4549
BGNEXEC@usgs.gov

 

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