Permanent Committee on Geographical Names

PCGN advises the British government on policies and procedures for the proper writing of geographical names for places and features outside the UK.

PCGN was established in 1919. Its principal function is to advise the British government on policies and procedures for the proper writing of geographical names for places and features outside the UK, excluding those of the Antarctic. Read more about the History of PCGN (PDF, 3.95 MB, 18 pages).

It provides a unique toponymic perspective on current global political affairs. Read more about the relationship between the PCGN and the US Board on Geographic Names (BGN): BGN/PCGN relationship: a model of cooperation and efficiency (PDF, 78.9 KB, 2 pages).

What does PCGN do?

The work of the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names:

  1. Establishes and applies the principles by which foreign geographical names (toponyms) should be written. This involves determination of the written form of a toponym, as established by the official agencies of a foreign country, and romanized to an agreed system where appropriate. PCGN does not itself create any geographical names, nor does it concern itself with toponymic etymologies.

  2. Develops, maintains, disseminates and promotes policies based on these principles. This involves advising how UK official products can best reflect each foreign country’s official national toponymic policies. The policies adopted by PCGN must be country based rather than language based, to reflect the requirements of His Majesty’s Government (HMG).

  3. Ensures interdepartmental service to HMG through the provision of approved geographical names. There may be more than one correct solution to any given toponymic requirement, since the individual demands of each HMG customer department may vary.

  4. Promotes the international standardisation of geographical names by representing the British government within the biennial United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN).

  5. Achieves and maintains policy harmony with the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) by means of BGN/PCGN Conferences.

  6. Develops appropriate standards for the processing of geographical names, such as romanization systems and procedures for the sorting and encoding of characters, in conjunction with the UNGEGN and the BGN.

  7. Maintains close liaison with such other relevant organisations as the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-names Committee (APC) and the British Standards Institution (BSI).

How do we do this?

  • we evaluate geopolitical issues and geographical names developments, through the acquisition and analysis of source materials in the world’s many diverse scripts and languages

  • we produce documents relating to geographical names in areas of particular interest

  • we actively support the production programmes of the organisations represented on the committee

Our organisation

The committee comprises representatives from the following organisations:

The permanent staff of the committee are accommodated in the committee’s offices which, to serve interdepartmental interests, are located within the House of the Royal Geographical Society.

PCGN committee meetings

The meeting minutes of the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names committee.

Contact us

For further information, or if you have any queries regarding geographical names, please contact us:

Permanent Committee on Geographical Names
c/o The Royal Geographical Society
1 Kensington Gore
London SW7 2AR
United Kingdom

Telephone: 020 7591 3120 or +44 20 7591 3120 (international)


Geographical name guidance

Information about the importance of geographical names, English conventional names, romanization systems, UK place names, country names and toponymic factfiles can be found on the PCGN guidance page.