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State History – Geographic Names Committee

State_of_DeseretUtah Committee on Geographic Names

The Utah Committee on Geographic Names role is defined by the 2005 Governor’s Executive Order for the State of Utah.  The Committee is tasked with reviewing and providing recommendations regarding geographic name proposals in Utah submitted to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.  The Committee is composed of eleven members, including five Ex-Officio and seven-at- large members.

What Are the Best Principles for Naming a Geographic Feature in Utah?

The most appropriate geographic names are ones that have evolved organically over time from local usage.  Names which describe the feature often garner the most support, while commemorative names are often the most problematic.  Both the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) and the Utah Committee on Geographic Names follow the BGN’s Principles, Policies, and Procedures document which defines the protocol used in the Committees decision making process.  Included in this document are constraints regarding naming in designated wilderness areas, limitations on commemorative naming, limitations on derogatory names, and guidelines for changing existing names.  Please review this document closely if you plan to move forward with a proposal. 

How to Propose a Name

Any natural geographic feature in the United States can have a name proposed.  The U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) has outlined key principles, policies, and procedures for naming geographic features (found here).  These guidelines should be followed for any geographic name proposals or risk denial by vote.  Proposals are submitted online through the BGN website (found here).  You will be provided with a temporary login to the BGN database where you will be walked step by step through the submission process.  Be prepared with background research on your submission, including:

  • Location (Latitude and Longitude)
  • Landowner name (e.g. Bureau of Land Management)
  • Documentation of local support (if any)
  • Documentation of landowner support (if any)
  • Historical use of the name (if any)
  • Names in local use
  • Detailed biography of person being commemorated (see below)

Please note – if the feature is being named for a person, please include evidence of direct association with the feature as outlined in the BGN’s Principles, Policies, and Procedures document (found here).  Also note, the person for whom the feature is being named must be deceased for at least five years

The process following the proposal can be followed through this chart here (link to GeoNames_WorkFlow_20151119.pdf).  Once submitted, the BGN will review your proposal and, if no issues are found, forward it to our Committee.  Our Committee will then review the proposal at the next quarterly meeting and begin efforts to research and verify key aspects of the proposal, including landowner, tribal, and county support.  As the Committee only meets quarterly, proposals can take significant time in review.

Once research and vetting is complete, the Committee will vote whether to support the proposal and then forward the results of the vote to the BGN.  The BGN then again reviews the proposal and makes a final, binding vote.  If you encounter trouble with your proposal, please contact the BGN (contact information here).  Proposals can also be made directly to our Committee but are directly forwarded on to the BGN for review.

How to Research Existing Geographic Names

There are some limited resources available for researching existing geographic names.  John Van Cott’s 1991 book Utah Place Names is a valuable reference.  This includes names in the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) and background on non-geographic feature names (such as cities).  For geographic names found on USGS maps, a great resource is the GNIS query tool (found here).  Certain results will include the original name proposal documentation or original survey documentation where the name officially originated.

Current Committee Membership

The Committee is composed of eleven members who include five Ex-Officio and seven at large members.  Members are reviewed and appointed by the Governor and generally serve a four-year term.  Interested in becoming a Committee member?  Please apply here.   Current members can be found below.  Membership expiration dates can be found here:

Dan White                           Committee Chair, at large
Kelli Bacon                          Ex-Officio, representing Utah Department of Transportation

Zachary Beck                      at large member

Dina Blaes                           Ex-Officio, representing the Utah Board of State History

Gen Green                         at large member
John Larsen                        at large member

Arie Leeflang                     Ex-Officio, designee of the Director of Utah Division of State History, Executive Secretary
Katherine Staley               at large member
David Vincent                    Ex-Officio, State Cartographer, U.S. Geological Survey
Grant Willis                        Ex-Officio, representing Utah Geological Survey
Quarterly Meeting Minutes and Agenda

The Committee posts upcoming agendas and past meeting minutes to Utah’s Public Notice Website (found here).  Please reference this site for upcoming agenda and previous meeting minutes.  Or please contact the Executive Secretary for additional information at 801.245.7246 or Aleeflang@utah.gov.

Outside Resources

U.S. Board on Geographic Names website
U.S. Board on Geographic Names’ Principles, Policies, and Procedures document
U.S. Board on Geographic Names recent meeting minutes including Board vote results
How to apply for Utah Committee on Geographic Names membership
Utah Committee on Membership’s Executive Order and current membership