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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-importance-of-geographical-names/the-importance-of-geographical-names
Geographical names are essentially labels which distinguish one part of the earth’s surface from another, and as such they must be considered with great care. Operations during World War 1 had demonstrated to Her Majesty’s government the dangers involved in using products with discrepant names.
They form a uniquely important part of any map or chart because they are written words, it is typically the names which are the most meaningful information for the user. It is the names which inform the user of that most vital piece of information: the location which the map portrays. It is precisely this particular map attribute, the geographical name, which cannot be identified from imagery.
Geographical names do not exist in a vacuum because they reflect human occupancy, they provide important information concerning politics and culture.
Names can vary based on a variety of factors:
- from one location to another
- changes through time, for example Salisbury to Harare (Zimbabwe)
- change of political power, such as Kishinev (Soviet Union) to Chişinău (Moldova)
- orthography, for example Erigavo to Ceerigaabo (Somalia)
- contexts of language and politics, for example the town in Iraq known as Arbīl in Arabic is known as Hewlêr in Kurdish
The choice of which name to apply will often depend on the context. For more details, please go to our page on English conventional names.
For geographical names to make sense on UK products, there is a requirement for romanization systems to handle each of the non-Roman script languages of the world.
It was the need to consider factors such as these, and to avoid the application on UK products of carelessly discrepant names, that was identified by the Admiralty as an absolute necessity during World War 1, which led on the Admiralty’s initiative to the formation of the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (PCGN) in 1919.