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Geographic Names Program

Idaho Geographic Names Program

Place names are part of our heritage and our cultural landscape.  Naming geographic features or changing geographic names therefore requires careful consideration. To provide such consideration, geographic name proposals go through a specific process that involves local, state, tribal and federal review.  

On the state level, the Idaho State Historical Society Board of Trustees serves as the Idaho Geographic Names Board (Idaho Code Section 67-4126).  The Idaho Geographic Names Board (Idaho Board) considers new names for unnamed geographic features and proposed name changes for features already named.  Often the proposals require a considerable amount of research to verify that the information is correct or proposal appropriate.  This research is conducted by the Idaho Geographic Names Advisory Council (IGNAC).

IGNAC is comprised of representatives from the Idaho State Historical Society, state and federal land managing agencies in Idaho, and the public.  IGNAC provides recommendations on new names or name changes to the Idaho Board.  The Idaho Board, in turn, provides recommendations back to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Today, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names is housed administratively in the Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey. Members include representatives of the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Commerce, Interior, State, and the United States Postal Service, Central Intelligence Agency, Government Printing Office, and Library of Congress.  The U.S. Board makes the final decisions on newly proposed geographic names and proposed name changes.  

The origins of the geographic names program goes back to 1890 when President Benjamin Harrison established the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (U.S. Board or BGN) to   initiate a program of standardizing and documenting geographic names in the United States.  This need was recognized after the Civil War with the onset of ambitious mapping and scientific reporting of the American West.  Mapmakers and scientists recognized the problem of inconsistencies and contradictions in geographic names on maps and in documents associated with mining, exploration, and settlement.

How to Propose a New Name or a Name Change in Idaho

Many steps are involved, so please understand that the process may take several months or more.   

Step 1: To submit a new geographic name or a name change, you must first consult the U.S. Board on Geographic Names’ Policies, Principles, and Procedures (PPP), complete the form provided by the U.S. Board, and submit it to the U.S. Board.  The PPP are very easy to read and provide clear guidance on geographic names or name changes. To better ensure a successful proposal, it is important to understand the policies. Contact information, the form, and the PPP are all available on the U.S. Board’s website.

Step 2:  The U.S. Board processes the form and, if necessary, requests additional information. Once the proposal meets their minimum requirements, the U.S. Board forwards the information to Idaho Geographic Names Advisory Council (IGNAC) for research and consideration.  At this time, the U.S. Board also contacts the appropriate local government and Indians Tribes.  Obtaining this information can take a considerable amount of time.

Step 3:  IGNAC requests the views of the land managing agency, conducts research, and considers local opinions provided by county commissioners, city councils, local citizens, and tribal governments, if any are provided. It is important to remember that IGNAC usually meets only twice annually, so this step will take at least six months.

Step 4:  IGNAC provides its recommendations to the Idaho Geographic Names Board.  The Idaho Board meets quarterly.  The Idaho Board votes to recommend acceptance or denial of the new name or name change, and forwards its recommendations back to the U.S. Board.

Step 5:  The U.S. Board meets monthly, and at each meeting, it considers numerous proposals from all across the country.  It may take a few months for your proposal to be heard. You will be notified of the U.S. Board’s opinion on your proposal.  If the proposal is accepted, the new name will appear on forthcoming federal maps and be considered official by federal and state governments.

If you have any questions about the process, please feel free to call IGNAC Chair (208) 334-3861.