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Guidance on Name Proposals

Listed here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions received by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) regarding the domestic geographic names proposal process.

Table of Contents


1. Can I name an unnamed natural feature?  

Yes, a name can be proposed to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) Domestic Names Committee for unnamed natural features, as well as canals, channels, reservoirs, and unincorporated communities in the United States and its territories and outlying areas. Click here for a full list of domestic names feature classes. Proposals that include evidence of local use and/or acceptance are more likely to be approved. In addition, the proposal will need to meet the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) Principles, Policies, and Procedures for Domestic Geographic Names.  

2. Can I propose to change the name of a natural feature?  

Yes, you can propose a change to an existing name or spelling, or to correct the location of a named feature. However, there must be a compelling reason and evidence of support for the change.  The BGN discourages name changes unless there is a compelling reason. Changing a name merely to correct or re-establish historical usage is not in and of itself a reason to change a name.   

3. What are the BGN principles to propose or change a name? 

For the complete list of BGN Domestic Geographic Name principles, see Principles, Policies, and Procedures. Some key principles are summarized below. 

The BGN will not consider proposals for new names and name changes that are  

  • Determined to be derogatory, specifically the words N___r, J_p, and Sq___   

  • Intended to be named for a living person, or the honoree has not been deceased for five years 

  • In a federally designated wilderness area 

  • Connected to a commercial product or enterprise, or 

  • Located on Tribal Trust lands (unless submitted by a Federally Recognized Indian Tribe) 

The BGN will not make official for Federal use a name that is determined by the BGN to be derogatory or offensive to a particular racial or ethnic group, gender, or religious group. 

4. How to I propose a new name or name change? 

Before submitting a proposal, please read the BGN’s Principles, Policies, and Procedures for Domestic Geographic Names to make sure your proposal complies with BGN practices and has the best chance for approval.  

To propose a new name or name change, complete the Domestic Geographic Name Proposal form (PDF version) and include all available supporting materials, either with the application or by email separately. The form can be submitted to or via mail to U.S. Board on Geographic Names, U.S. Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, MS 523, Reston, VA 20192-0523. 

Examples of supporting materials include biographical information, wilderness justification, statement that the proposal is not promoting a business, or proof of Tribal engagement.  

If there are any questions, contact The entire proposal process is free of charge but will take a minimum of six months.   

5. What can I do to help the BGN in its consideration of my proposal? 

The most important consideration is local use and acceptance.  The individual (“the proponent”) proposing a new name or name change should try to solicit local opinions, such as from present-day residents of the area, local organizations, and historical and genealogical societies, and from the appropriate local, town, city, and/or county government(s).  

For a name change proposal, please go to the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Domestic Names Search application and include the existing official name and Feature ID.

In addition, the proponent of a name change that is considered derogatory or offensive should research the history of the existing name, and wherever possible, propose a replacement that retains the history or geography.  Published histories and local historical societies can be valuable resources for this information.  If it can be determined that the name referred to an early settler, or owner or inhabitant of the property, or to an event or incident that happened at that location, the name should reflect that history; such names are more likely to be accepted over ones that have no significance to the local community. 

6. Can I propose a name to honor (commemorate) a person? Or a pet? 

Commemorative names are possible, but the individual must have been deceased for at least five years. They must have had either a direct or long-term association with the feature or made notable civic contributions. The proposal should include the honoree’s full name, birth and death dates, and a short biography. The policy for pets is similar but please read Policy XII. Animal Names in Principles, Policies, and Procedures for the details. 

7. How does the BGN address geographic names of interest to American Indian Tribes? 

The Federal Government’s unique relationship with Tribes is embodied in the U.S. Constitution, treaties, court decisions, Federal statutes, and Executive orders.  The BGN honors the government-to-government relationships that exist between Tribes and the Federal Government.  The BGN acknowledges the rights of Tribes to self-governance and to exercise inherent sovereign powers over their Tribal lands. 

For geographic features located entirely on Tribal Trust lands, the BGN will defer to the Tribal government to determine the name to be used by the Federal Government. Tribal governments are encouraged to research and provide to the BGN names that they wish to be made official for Federal use, including those in their indigenous languages.  The BGN’s Policy on Tribal Geographic Names provides guidance on when an alternate but equivalent form of the official name might be appropriate. 

For geographic features located partly on Tribal Trust lands or entirely outside Tribal Trust lands, the BGN will consider any new name or name change proposal within the criteria of its established principles and policies.  

In proposing any new name that is intended to honor Native Americans, their language, or culture, the proponent takes on a primary responsibility for selecting a name that is as respectful as possible to the Native American people of that region. Please refer to the Cultural Sensitivity for Native American Names guidance

The BGN will inform federally recognized Tribes that all new proposals (new names and name changes) are available for review via a link at the BGN’s website to each new Quarterly Review List.  Tribes are invited to comment on any of the proposals in which they have an interest.  The recommendations of Tribal governments are considered along with all other opinions and evidence submitted regarding the matter. 

8. Can a feature be unnamed? 

Once named, a feature in the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) can never be “unnamed”, only changed to another name.  Geographic names are very often well-established on maps, documents, signs, and websites, and to remove them without a compelling reason may lead to confusion. 

9. What happens when a proposal is submitted? 

When the BGN Domestic Names Committee receives a proposal, an initial review is completed to confirm it meets the BGN’s Principles, Policies, and Procedures for Domestic Geographic Names. For a new name, the staff will verify that the geographic feature in question is officially unnamed, and for name changes, they will research the history of the existing name and the reason and appropriateness of the proposed replacement. If details are missing, further communication with the proponent may be required.  

Once the review is complete, BGN staff will prepare a case brief using the details provided by the proponent and from research.  This is added to the Quarterly Review List that lists all the pending proposals and is made available for public comment. The lists are generally released in March, June, September, and December. 

The BGN Domestic Names Committee makes decisions only after receiving recommendations from the local and county governments, Tribal governments, the State Names Authority (Council of Geographic Names Authorities), and appropriate land management agencies.  The public is also given the opportunity to provide input. Recommendations from local organizations, like historical societies and conservation groups, are welcomed but not required. 

As soon as all interested parties have had an opportunity to provide input, the proposal is added to the BGN monthly meeting docket for discussion and a decision.

10. How long does the naming process take? 

The process takes a minimum of six months. Each proposal is thoroughly reviewed and researched before the BGN Domestic Names Committee renders a decision. Critical to the process is gathering recommendations and inputs from a variety of groups and individuals, which requires adequate time for responses.  

11. How can I find out the status of a proposal?   

The Action List, available at DNC Review Lists, records all proposals that are pending before the BGN Domestic Names Committee, along with those that have been voted on by the BGN Domestic Names Committee in the previous 12 months.  Proposals listed as pending are awaiting recommendations from one or more stakeholders and will be added to a future monthly docket once that input is received. The Quarterly Review List number is included on the Action List and can be used to locate the case summary (DNC Review Lists). You may also check on the status of a proposal by sending an email to

12. What happens after a BGN Domestic Names Committee decision is made?

Following the BGN’s Domestic Names Committee monthly meeting, approved new names and changes (name, spelling, or location) are added to/updated in the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) within 3-4 days of the decision. All interested parties who corresponded with the BGN during the review process, including the proponent, are notified of the outcome. If the proposal was not approved by the BGN, a reason is provided. A notice is sent by email to the appropriate State Geographic Names Authorities, Federal land management agencies, and the National Hydrography Dataset

Upon approval by the BGN, any new name or change is immediately official for Federal use. Any previous name should be replaced with the new name.  

Names are extracted from GNIS on a regular cycle and incorporated into the geographic names and hydrography datasets of The National Map. These names are in turn reflected in Federal products, including USGS topographic maps, U.S. Forest Service maps, National Park Service brochures, and NOAA nautical charts, among others. Federal documents, data, and maps containing GNIS data are refreshed at the prerogative of the department, bureau, or office to which they belong. These updates can take from weeks or to years depending on the product. 

13. What if I want to propose a name or name change outside of the United States and its dependent areas?

For features not under the purview of the Domestic Names Committee, please see the pages on other committees of U.S. Board on Geographic Names, listed below. These committees have different principles, policies, and procedures regarding geographic names and may or may not accept proposals from the general public.