Who Decides What Names Go on a Map?
For 125 years, a group you’ve never heard of has been helping create a common language for the world’s place names.
Would a place by any other name smell as sweet? Maybe. But how would you find it on a map?
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) has spent the past 125 years making sure that’s not an issue. By standardizing place names on government maps, it eliminates problems that arise from inconsistencies and redundancies—a boon to mapmakers and map-readers alike.
As the BGN celebrates its quasquicentennial anniversary on Friday with a gala symposium at the Library of Congress, it’s time to look back at why the board was founded (by a group that includes several charter members of the National Geographic Society), how it works, and why it’s as essential to clear communication in 2015 as it was