© KSNG 2002-2014

United Nations Group of Experts

on Geographical Names (UNGEGN)


Standardizing geographical names has both a national and an international aspect. Continuous efforts to standardize geographical names for international use are largely related to UN activity. The uniform use of names of localities and physiographic features is a fundamental element of world-wide communication. That was what the United Nations Organization had in mind when it established the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN).

The UNGEGN had its first meeting in New York in 1960. Consistent with the recommendations approved at that meeting and at the second in 1966, the United Nations Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC) passed a resolution on the need to introduce uniform geographical names in international traffic, a purpose which was to be fulfilled by so-called national gazetteers (formal list of geographical names for a given country).

The basic aims of the UNGEGN:

  • To emphasize the importance of the standardization of geographical names at the national and international levels and to demonstrate the benefits to be derived from such standardization
  • To collect the results of the work of national and international bodies dealing with the standardization of geographical names and to facilitate the dissemination of these results to States Members of the United Nations
  • To study and propose principles, policies and methods suitable for resolving problems of national and international standardization
  •  To play an active role, by facilitating the supply of scientific and technical help, in particular to developing countries, in creating mechanisms for the national and international standardization of geographical names
  • To provide a vehicle for liaison and coordination among Member States, and between Member States and international organizations, on work associated with the standardization of geographical names
  • To implement the tasks assigned as a result of the resolutions adopted at the United Nations Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names
UNGEGN’s operations:
  • To develop procedures and establish mechanisms for standardization in response to national requirements and particular requests
  • To undertake preparatory work for the periodic international conferences on the standardization of geographical names, to provide continuity for activities between conferences, and to provide leadership in the implementation of resolutions adopted at the conferences
  • To encourage the discussion and study of practical and theoretical steps directed towards standardization
  • To coordinate the activities of linguistic/geographical divisions formed to further the work at the national level, to encourage the active participation of countries and divisions, and to promote a degree of uniformity in the work undertaken
  • To create any necessary structure to supplement the work of divisions and to deal with issues beyond the scope of a division
  • To develop appropriate programmes to assist individual countries and group of countries, to achieve standardization where it is lacking
  • To make mapping organizations aware of the impor-tance of using standardized geographical names
  • To maintain liaison with international organizations dealing with related subjects and encourage group divisions to participate in the United Nations regional or other cartographic conferences
  • To work at the highest possible national, international and United Nations level to interrelate toponymy and cartography
  • To make standardization principles and standardized geographical names available as practical information for as wide a user community as possible, through all appropriate media
UNGEGN current activities:
  • supporting the creation of national collections of names and their publication in the form of gazetteers
  • standardizing exonyms appearing in individual languages
  • recommendations for elaboration of lists of country names in national languages
  • promotion of usage of geographical names in indigenous, minority and regional languages
  • recommendations for elaboration of toponymic guidelines
  • elaboration of romanization systems
  • unification of the terminology applied in standardization of geographical names
  • training courses in toponymic

In 1972 the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names was officially divided into 14 linguistic/geographical divisions. In the following years new divisions were created. The names of several divisions were also changed during that time. At the moment 24 divisions are established. Each country autonomously chooses the divisions affiliation.

  • Africa Central Division
  • Africa East Division
  • Africa South Division
  • Africa West Division
  • Arabic Division
  • Asia East Division (other than China)
  • Asia South-East Division
  • Asia South-West Division (other than Arabic)
  • Baltic Division
  • Celtic Division
  • China Division
  • Dutch- and German-speaking Division
  • East Central and South-East Europe Division
  • Eastern Europe, Northern and Central Asia Division
  • East Mediterranean Division (other than Arabic)
  • French-speaking Division
  • India Division
  • Latin America Division
  • Norden Division
  • Pacific South-West Division
  • Portuguese-speaking Division
  • Romano-Hellenic Division
  • United Kingdom Division
  • USA/Canada Division

Under the umbrella of UNGEGN, several working groups have been created to follow up topics and issues which cut across the Divisional structure of UNGEGN

  • Working Group on Country Names
  • Working Group on Toponymic Data Files and Gazetteers
  • Working Group on Toponymic Terminology
  • Working Group on Publicity and Funding
  • Working Group on Romanization Systems
  • Working Group on Training Courses in Toponymy
  • Working Group on Evaluation and Implementation
  • Working Group on Exonyms
  • Working Group on Geographical Names as Cultural Heritage (till 2012 as: Working Group on the Promotion of Recording and Use of Indigenous, Minority and Regional Language Group Geographical Names)

Other UNGEGN Working Groups that have been created, fulfilled their functions, and been disbanded, include: Working Group on Names of undersea and maritime features, Working Group on Extraterrestrial topographic names, and Working Group on Pronunciation.

In addition, UNGEGN has Task Team for Africa and Task Team for coordinates the work of countries in developing their Toponymic Guidelines.

UNGEGN Brochure