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agency bullet General Policy (GNS)

General Policy

The United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) is the interagency board established by public law to standardize geographic name spellings for use in U.S. Government publications.

The BGN was first established in 1890 by an executive order issued by President Benjamin Harrison. The Board was reestablished in its present form by Public Law 80-242 passed by Congress in 1947. Overall responsibility for the work of the Board is in the hands of the Secretary of the Interior. 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 DNC works closely with State geographic names boards and with interested agencies, groups, and individuals to standardize placename spellings within the 50 States and in U.S. possessions. The DNC does not actively name features but prescribes overall policy and assists in the resolution of geographic name disputes. Members of the DNC come from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior, the Government Printing Office, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Postal Service. Staff support for the DNC comes from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The FNC is concerned with the development of standard placename spellings for features outside the U.S. and its territories. 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 British counterpart, the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use, 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 consistant manner. Members of the FNC come from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Departments of Defense and 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.

A number of geographic name products are available as a result of the Board's work. Access to both the domestic and foreign geographic name databases is available on the Internet's World Wide Web. A CD-ROM of the domestic database is available from the U.S. Geological Survey. A handbook of the BGN romanization systems for more than 25 non-Roman writing systems is also available.

Further information about the Board and its activities may be obtained from:

BGN Executive Secretary
Domestic Names Committee
NGA Geographer
BGN Executive Secretary
Foreign Names Committee

Point of Contact: GEOnet Names Server
NGA Campus East
phone 571-557-5959, DSN 547-5959

Document last modified September 24, 2014

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