UNGEGN Toponymic Guidelines

Toponymic Guidelines (full title: Toponymic guidelines for map and other editors, for international use) are up-to-date documents promoted by the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN). The aim of these documents is to compile information on toponymic issues of a certain country, especially from the perspective of standardization of geographical names.


At the Third United Nations Conference on the Standardization of geographical Names held in August/September 1977 at Athens (Greece), gathering and dissemination of toponymic information was discussed. The great variation in approaches from country to country led Josef Breu, who was elected Chair of the United Nations Group of Experts (UNGEGN) on that very Conference, to initiate the compilation of more or less standardized Toponymic Guidelines. As a sample for these guidelines he elaborated Toponymic Guidelines for International Cartography of his native Austria and presented them as Working Paper Nr. 5 at the Eighth Session of The UNGEGN, held in February/March 1979 at New York. This sample sticks to the table of contents which Breu had already outlined in 1977.

UN resolutions promoting Toponymic Guidelines

The echo on Breus proposal was positive. In the years to come four resolutions were adopted in favour of the promotion of Toponymic Guidelines. At the 4th UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (Geneva, August/September 1982) resolution nr. 4 was drafted,[1] concerning the Publication of Toponymic Guidelines for map and other editors: This resolution presents a checklist on the contents of Guidelines and recommends that the Toponymic Guidelines submitted by Austria should serve as a sample of format and contents. It also recommends that a correspondent should be appointed by the UNGEGN to coordinate the work of developing national Toponymic Guidelines and to maintain communication with national experts involved in their elaboration.

At the 5th United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (Montreal, August 1987) another two resolutions were passed that concern Toponymic Guidelines: Resolution nr. 11 recommends that a clear typographical distinction should be made on national maps between toponyms and text items for other purposes. The methods of differentiations should be explained in the national Toponymic Guidelines.[2]

Resolution nr. 14 of this Conference recommends that countries should be strongly encouraged to publish and keep up to date Toponymic Guidelines, and that the United Nations Secretariat should provide appropriate assistance for their publication and dissemination.[3]

At the 6th UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names (New York, August/September 1992) resolution nr. 14 recommends Toponymic Guidelines in combined volumes, in at least one of the working languages of the United Nations, and that provision should be made to issue the Guidelines in the World Cartography bulletin.

The title of the Toponymic Guidelines has been modified in 1982 and 1986. Whereas Breu in his sample used the title Toponymic Guidelines for International Cartography, the above-mentioned resolution nr. 4 of the 4th UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names uses the title Toponymic guidelines for map and other editors. In 1986, on the 12th Session of the UNGEGN, it was decided to add for international use to the title.[4]


Resolution nr. 4, passed at the 4th UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names in 1982, presented a checklist of items, which Toponymic Guidelines should contain:

  • Legal status of geographical names in the respective languages of multilingual countries;
  • Alphabets of the language or languages and, furthermore, in the case of non-Roman alphabets and scripts, the officially introduced romanization keys;
  • Spelling rules for geographical names;
  • Aids to pronunciation of geographical names;
  • Linguistic substrata recognizable in the existing place names, but only as far as their knowledge could be of benefit to the cartographer;
  • Relationship between dialect(s) and standard language(s);
  • Peculiarities of dialect and areal distribution of the main dialects;
  • Areal distribution of languages in multilingual countries;
  • Names authorities and measures taken in names standardization;
  • Source material;
  • Glossary of words necessary for the understanding of maps;
  • Abbreviations in official maps;
  • Administrative divisions.

List of countries that have published Toponymic Guidelines

41 countries have elaborated Toponymic Guidelines (or at least drafts of such guidelines) so far (status: March 2017; countries that do not exist any more marked with asterisk):

CountryYear of presentation or

latest update respectively

Czech Republic2007
*Germany (GDR)1981
Iran, Islamic Republic of2000
Korea, Republic of2015
South Africa2012
United Kingdom2017
United States1989

Some countries have presented Toponymic Guidelines for national use, for example Chile in 2007.[5]



  • Kerfoot, Helen / Närhi, Eeva Maria: Toponymic guidelines for map and other editors, for international use (from the 1970s to the present). In: Manual for the national standardization of geographical names United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names United Nations. New York: United Nations, 2006: pp. 143–152. Online: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/publication/seriesm/seriesm_88e.pdf
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.