Technical reference manual for the standardization of geographical names
In the late 1940s, the United Nations cartographic services, through the Economic and Social
Council, sought expert advice on a standardized means of writing geographical names. The goal
was to achieve clear communication through United Nations maps and documents, and thereby
avoid ambiguity and confusion in spelling or name application. More than 50 years have now
elapsed, with both the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN)
and the United Nations Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names pursuing the
objectives of geographical names standardization across the world. During this period, the
advances in digital technology have been enormous and have changed the way we function, but
it remains a well-established fact that international standardization with regard to geographical
names is based on the tenets of national standardization.
In addition to encouraging the formation of national authorities, the members of the
United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names have worked hard to facilitate and
promote the work of such authorities. The creation of Group of Experts working groups to
consider particular areas of common concern has been particularly significant in terms of
addressing such issues as: romanization systems; toponymic data exchange and formats; country
names; toponymic terminology; and training courses in toponymy. Some other working groups
completed their work and, after reporting back to the Group of Experts, were disbanded.
However, in the case of the first-mentioned working groups, efforts have been ongoing for many
years and will no doubt continue for the foreseeable future. Considerable progress has been
made in their areas of concern—for example, in the realm of standards and formats—in respect
of providing guidance to those administering or using geographical names throughout the world.
During 2002, the United Nations published the Glossary of Terms for the Standardization
of Geographical Names,
an outgrowth of the work of the Group of Experts Working Group on
Toponymic Terminology. Later the same year, the Eighth United Nations Conference on the
Standardization of Geographical Names adopted resolution VIII/15,
in which the Conference,
inter alia, requested the United Nations Statistics Division to publish two manuals on Group of
Experts-related material during the biennium 2004–2005. The first to be published, entitled
Manual for the National Standardization of Geographical Names,
was prepared under the
auspices of the Working Group on Publicity and Funding and includes basic material useful for
the Working Group on Training Courses in Toponymy. The second publication is the present
reference manual, which focuses on the more technical aspects of geographical names
The contents of this manual are primarily the results of the efforts of three Group of
Experts Working Groups: on Romanization Systems; on Country Names; and on Toponymic
Data Files and Gazetteers (with its companion, the Working Group on Toponymic Data
Exchange Formats and Standards which was active from 1996 to 1998 specifically for the
United Nations publication, Sales No. M.01.XVII.7.
See the report of the Eighth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names, Berlin,
27 August–5 September 2002 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.03.I.14), chap. III.
United Nations publication, Sales No. E.06.XVII.7.