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agency bullet U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN)

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is a Federal body created in 1890 and established in its present form by Public Law 80-242 in 1947 to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government. 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 work of the Board is funded out of the normal operating expenses of the agencies involved, and members of the BGN and its committees receive no additional remuneration for their service.

The work of the BGN is carried primarily out by two of its standing committees: the Domestic Names Committee (DNC) and the Foreign Names Committee (FNC). The standardization of geographic names within the United States and areas under its sovereignty are the responsibility of the DNC. Every year, the DNC reviews hundreds of new domestic name proposals and suggested name changes from private citizens and local, state, federal, and tribal authorities. The DNC never initiates a new name proposal; rather, it mediates place name controversies and rules on new name proposals using its principles, policies and procedures. Members of the DNC come from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Defense, Homeland Security, the Government Publishing Office, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Postal Service. Staff support for the DNC comes from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Foreign Names Committee (FNC) is concerned with the development of standard place name spellings for features outside the U.S. and areas under its sovereignty. The FNC relies heavily on native mapping, census reports, official bulletins, and other foreign material to collect and standardize foreign geographic names for use by U.S. Government agencies. In cooperation with its U.K. counterpart, the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, the FNC has developed systems for the conversion of non-Roman writing systems (e.g., Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic) to Roman script in order to convert non-Roman-script geographic names to Roman-script forms in a consistent manner. Members of the FNC come from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Departments of Defense, Commerce, State, and the Library of Congress. Staff support for the FNC is provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

In addition to the DNC and the FNC, the BGN has two advisory committees: the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names and the Advisory Committee on Undersea Features. The committees are composed of scientific experts in their respective fields who work to ensure the standardization of geographic nomenclature in mapping, charting, and technical publications dealing with these fields. Staff support for the two advisory committees is provided by the U.S Geological Survey and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, respectively.

Further information about the Board and its activities may be obtained from its website or by contacting:
BGN Executive Secretary
Domestic Names Committee
BGN Executive Secretary
Foreign Names Committee

Commercial: (571) 557-5959
DSN: 547-5959

Document last modified December 02, 2020

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