Virginia Board on Geographic Names (VABGN)

Geographic names have been documented and standardized in the United States since 1890 when President Benjamin Harrison established the United States Board on Geographic Names (USBGN.) Its authority was further extended by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and established in its present form by an act of Congress in 1947.

Since the 1950s the VABGN has acted as an advisory board on naming issues in Virginia to the USBGN. Initially, correspondence was between the USBGN and the Virginia State Librarian; in the 1960s the Virginia State Archivist was fully engaged as the point of contact for Virginia feature place-names. Today, the State Archivist works closely with the Senior Map Archivist on new name and name change proposals.

The purpose of the VABGN is to make recommendations regarding the naming of features to the USBGN, who holds the final authority.

Please read the FAQs below or contact us with any questions or comments: vabgn@lva.virginia.gov.

Virginia Proposals before the USBGN Domestic Names Committee

Pending

Decided

Requesting a place name change in Virginia

Please complete and submit to the USBGN the application to Propose or Change a Domestic Name. When the application is complete, in accordance with USGS guidelines, the state names authority will review the final proposal and send a recommendation to the USGS Geographic Names Board, either supporting or not supporting the proposal. The USGS Board then places the application on their agenda for a federal-level review meeting, and based on that meeting a decision is made to adopt or deny the proposal.

The VABGN will be considering the following:

  • Is there an already existing name for the feature?
  • What is the historical origin of the existing name?
  • What is the historical justification for the proposed name?
  • Is the proposed name in local usage?
  • Do local leaders, residents and businesses support the proposed name?

Frequently Asked Questions:

Who can propose a name?
Anyone, including individuals, groups, clubs, or governmental bodies, can propose a name, either to name a feature that now does not have a name or to change a name now in use.

What can be named?
Any geographic feature, a mountain, hill, river, stream, wash, summit, spring. Places like unincorporated towns or villages can be named, but more formal places like cities and counties get their names through political processes.

What’s the best way to name a geographic feature?
The single, best reason to name a geographic feature is local usage of a name that has evolved over a period of years and is supported by local residents. Descriptive names are preferred. Native names are encouraged that are linguistically appropriate to the area. Changing an official name is only done when a current name is derogatory, causing confusion, or there is evidence of extensive local support by authorities and residents. There must be a commanding reason to name a feature in designated wilderness areas. For commemorative names, the individual must have been dead or the event occurred at least five years earlier, and the significant contributions of the person or importance of the event must be established. It is federal policy to identify a single official name and spelling for a geographic feature, though it might identify a number of variant names.

Are there any specific rules to follow?
Yes, there are rules, but they are easy to find and follow. The USBGN has put them all together in the "Principles, Policies, and Procedures: Domestic Geographic Names.' Scan the first three short chapters where you will find information about naming features for people (commemorative names), naming features in wilderness areas, and what is meant by "derogatory names."

What other resources are available?
U.S. Board on Geographic Names Domestic Names
Geographic Names Information System
Council of Geographic Names Authority
USBGN Quarterly Review List

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