[60-day draft.  Send comments to Michael_Shelton@nps.gov by April 6, 2009.]



Director’s Order #63:  Naming Geographic Features in Parks




Approved: _______________________



Effective Date: ________________ 


Duration: This order will remain in effect until rescinded or amended.


This Director’s Order supersedes Staff Directive 80-4 and any other conflicting policy guidance on the subject of geographic names.




1.   Purpose

2.   Authority to Issue this Order

3.   Background

     a.   U.S. Board on Geographic Names

     b.  Geographic Names Information System

     c.  Principles, Policies, and Procedures

      d.   NPS Deputy Member

      e.   State Geographic Names Authorities

 4.  Basic Responsibilities

     a.  Chief, Office of Policy

     b.  Regional Directors

     c.  Park Unit Managers

     d.   Harpers Ferry Center  

5.  Initiating a Naming Proposal

6.  Responding to Names Proposed by Others

7.  Special Policy Considerations

     a.  Commemorative Names

     b.   Consultation



1.  Purpose


The purpose of this Director’s Order is to describe the process by which the National Park Service will coordinate with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names when considering names proposed for geographic features within units of the national park system.


2.  Authority to Issue this Order


The authority to issue this Order is contained in the National Park Service Organic Act (16 USC 1-4) and in delegations of authority contained in Part 245 of the Department of the Interior Manual.  This order is intended only to improve the internal management of the NPS and is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, instrumentalities or entities, its officers or employees, or any other person.


3.  Background


a.  U.S. Board on Geographic Names.  The authority to approve official names for geographic features within the United States and its territories and possessions—including features within units of the national park system—lies with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names[1].  The Board was first created by Executive Order in 1890 and established in its present form by statute in 1947 (43 USC 364a).  The Board’s purpose is to standardize the names of geographic features on maps and in other official publications of the Federal Government.  It is composed of primary and deputy representatives of Federal agencies having an interest in the subject of geographic names.  A proposed change or correction to an official name, and any proposal to name an unnamed feature, must be approved by the Board before it can be used on Federal maps or signs or in Federal publications. 


Most naming issues of interest to the NPS are decided by the Board’s Domestic Names Committee (DNC), which deals with all naming proposals in the 50 States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and territories and possessions of the United States.  The DNC handles questions of conflict, proper application and new name proposals, including proposals within units of the national park system.  The DNC’s decisions, rendered on behalf of the Board and approved by the Secretary of the Interior are binding on all employees and contractors of the Federal Government, including those of the National Park Service.  (For the purposes of this Director’s Order, there is little need to distinguish between the Board and the DNC.)


b.  Geographic Names Information System.  All geographic names approved by the Board and considered official for Federal Government use are maintained in the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)[2].  The GNIS comprises the official name, location (latitude and longitude), and a unique Feature ID that references that feature.  In addition, each GNIS entry provides the name of the State(s) and county(ies) in which the feature is located, and a reference to the U.S. Geological Survey 1:24,000-scale topographic map(s) on which the feature is located.  Additional information, such as the history of the name and/or a description of the feature may also be provided.  Other names and spellings applied to the feature, currently and in the past, are included and are referred to as “variant names.”  GNIS comprises over two million names, of which approximately one percent have been the subject of formal review by the Board; however, all names in GNIS are considered equally official for Federal use.  Federal employees and their contractors may not apply any geographic name to any new or revised Federal media—including publications and maps, both conventional and electronic—unless it is in GNIS.  


c.  Principles, Policies, and Procedures.  The DNC’s decisions are guided by its “Principles, Policies, and Procedures” (PPPs) for naming geographic features.  NPS officials and representatives must take these PPP’s into account when proposing geographic names or when evaluating or commenting on names proposed by others.  The most noteworthy are listed below.  The full PPPs are listed in their entirety on-line at http://geonames.usgs.gov/docs/pro_pol_pro.pdf.


  • The Board recognizes present day local usage or local preference when possible.
  • The Board does not approve names that commemorate or may be construed to commemorate living persons.  In addition, a person must be deceased at least 5 years before a commemorative proposal will be considered.
  • A deceased person being honored by a commemorative naming proposal should have had either some direct association with the feature or have made a significant contribution to the area or State in which it is located.
  • A person’s death on or at a feature, such as in a mountaineering accident or plane crash, or the ownership of land or the feature, does not normally meet the “direct association” criterion for commemorative names.
  • The Board will not adopt a name for Federal usage that it determines to be derogatory to a particular racial or ethnic group, gender, or religious group.
  • The Board will not approve new names in a wilderness area unless the proponent demonstrates an overriding need. 


d.  NPS Deputy Member.  The Deputy Member representing the NPS on the DNC handles correspondence and attends monthly meetings of the DNC, as well as quarterly meetings of the full Board, which is responsible for rendering decisions on names for foreign and undersea geographic features, and features in Antarctica.  The Deputy Member coordinates closely with the parks and regional offices on proposals that affect NPS areas.  To ensure that geographic name proposals are processed efficiently, regional directors are asked to designate an individual to serve as a geographic names regional coordinator.  This designation, and any changes to it, should be provided to the Deputy Member in the WASO Office of Policy.


e.  State Geographic Names Authorities.  Each State has a State Geographic Names Authority, which is responsible for conducting research at the local and State level and for providing a recommendation to the Board on behalf of the State.  (More information on-line at http://cogna50usa.org/.)  On occasion, local or regional NPS representatives are asked to serve as consultants and provide input to State Names Authorities, particularly when the geographic feature in question is within a park unit. This cooperation is strongly encouraged, and should be coordinated with the Deputy Member. 


4.  Basic Responsibilities


a.  Chief, Office of Policy (or the Chief’s designee) will serve as the NPS “deputy” on the Board on Geographic Names.


b.  Regional directors will coordinate responses to all geographic naming proposals for parks within their regions (unless delegated to the parks).  Regional directors should:


·        designate a staff member to serve as regional geographic names coordinator; or, as an option,

·        authorize park unit managers to coordinate directly with the NPS Deputy Member.


c.  Park unit managers will:


·        review and evaluate names proposed by other parties for geographic features within their parks.  (More details in section 6, below.)  When reviewing and evaluating names proposed by other parties, park managers may also:

o       consult with interested non-NPS parties such as tribal authorities and local governments regarding these proposals.[3]  (If this consultation is not performed by park staff, it will be performed by the Board’s staff.)

o       provide comments regarding geographic naming proposals outside their park’s boundaries if the proposed name would have an impact on the park’s interests.

·        initiate naming proposals for geographic features within their parks when necessary to:

o       name an area previously unnamed;

o       correct a spelling or form heretofore misused;

o       correct or change a name; or

o       confirm a name in local usage.

(More details in section 5, below.)

·        verify that the geographic names they publish in or on new or revised NPS media—including publications, maps, and electronic media—are included and recorded correctly in the GNIS (see section 3.b, above).

o       If a geographic name is not in the GNIS, submit the name to the Board’s staff for consideration.  [Note:  This can be done via e-mail.]  If the name of a natural feature is already well established and in local use, and if it does not conflict with an existing official name, the Board’s staff can very likely add it to the GNIS with a minimum of effort and without formal Board review.  The names and locations of all administrative features (such as visitor centers, campgrounds, trails, overlooks, ranger stations) should also be sent directly to the Board’s staff for entry into the GNIS.  If the number of new names or corrections is significant, the Board’s staff will encourage the park’s staff to participate in the interactive, online, GNIS maintenance program. 

o       If a locally-used name or spelling conflicts with a name in GNIS, the Board’s staff will determine if formal review by the Board is required, and if necessary will suggest that the park’s management or staff initiate a proposal.

·        Maintain accurate and current records regarding geographic naming activities, in accordance with Director’s Order #19: Records Management.


Park units that experience relatively frequent naming proposals may benefit from the creation of a committee of park staff and/or park-specific criteria for evaluating the proposals.  This could also be done at the regional level.


d.  Harpers Ferry Center will take necessary steps to ensure that the geographic names published in or on new or revised HFC-produced media—including publications, maps, and electronic products—are consistent with the GNIS.  HFC should also coordinate in other ways with the Board’s staff to help ensure that the listing of national park features in the GNIS is accurate and complete.


5.  Initiating a Naming Proposal


Proposals for geographic names in or adjacent to national park system units may follow one of two procedures: (1) the NPS initiates the naming proposal; or (2) a name is proposed to the Board by non-NPS parties.  Under the first procedure, NPS employees may propose names for geographic features through the manager of the affected unit.  Such proposals may be for any of the following or related purposes:


·                    to name an area previously unnamed;

·                    to correct a spelling or form heretofore misused;

·                    to correct or change a name; and

·                    to confirm a name in local usage.


After considering all policy concerns, the park manager must document the naming proposal and complete a Domestic Geographic Names Report.  The Report form is available in hard-copy format within Appendix C of the PPP’s, or as an electronic form for on-line submission at http://geonames.usgs.gov/domestic/name_form.htm.  The information must be developed in conformance with the Board’s guidelines (chapters 4 and 5 of the PPP’s) and include the results of any consultations with other affected parties.  The proposal should then be submitted to the regional director or regional coordinator (or directly to the NPS Deputy Member if that is the regional director’s preference). 


If the regional director concurs with the proposal, then the Report, along with the regional director's comments and recommendations, will be forwarded to the Deputy Member in the WASO Office of Policy.  The Deputy Member is responsible for preparing the formal NPS position, conferring with the WASO Directorate (if necessary to resolve disagreements), and communicating the NPS position to the Board. 


Before acting on a proposal, the Board will obtain the views of appropriate State, local and tribal authorities, and any other party which it believes might have an interest in the issue.  Park managers may assist the Board and expedite the process by performing these consultations. 


Each State has a State Geographic Names Authority, which is responsible for conducting research at the local and State level and for providing a recommendation to the Board on behalf of the State.  On occasion, local or regional NPS representatives are asked to serve as consultants and provide input to State Names Authorities, particularly when the geographic feature in question is within a park unit. This cooperation is strongly encouraged, and should be coordinated with the Deputy Member. 


6.  Responding to Names Proposed by Others


If a naming proposal—whether a new name or a name or spelling change—is first brought to NPS attention through the Board, the NPS Deputy Member will forward the proposal along with any available background information to the appropriate regional director.  The regional director will in turn request comments from the manager of the affected park unit.  The park manager will submit a response, including the results of any consultations outside the NPS, to the regional director, who will then recommend an NPS position to the Deputy Member.  Evaluations should be completed and recommendations sent to the Deputy Member within 60 days.  If more time is needed, the Deputy Member should be notified so that a request for deferral can be made to the Domestic Names Committee.


It is not unusual for park unit managers to be approached by advocates of a proposed name early in the process, and thus learn about a proposal before receiving background information from the Deputy Member.  In such cases, the park unit manager should refrain from actively or formally supporting or rejecting the proposal until first conferring with the regional director or regional coordinator, and the Deputy Member.  The goal is to avoid awkward and potentially embarrassing situations that might arise when managers voice opinions on proposals which contravene NPS policy or are at odds with the DNC’s Principles, Policies, and Procedures.


The Deputy Member is responsible for preparing and transmitting the formal NPS position to the Board.


7.  Special Policy Considerations


      a.  Commemorative Names.  In addition to being consistent with the Board’s PPP’s, proposals which emanate from the parks must be consistent with NPS policy.  In some ways, NPS policy is more stringent than the Board’s.  One particularly sensitive issue is commemorative naming.  The Board requires that the intended honoree(s) must have been deceased for at least five years before a commemorative proposal will be considered.  NPS policy also stipulates that individuals will not be commemorated unless (1) the association between the park and the individual is of transcendent importance, or (2) the commemoration is authorized by Congress.  (See NPS Management Policies 2006, section 9.6.) 


To have the name of an individual or family applied to a geographic feature in a national park is a high honor.  The five-year waiting period is intended to allow a “cooling off” period, and to confirm that the individual’s perceived contributions will stand the test of time.  During the five-year waiting period, those who wish to honor the memory of a deceased individual should give serious thought to other options, such as establishing a scholarship or charitable fund in the individual’s name, or making a donation to support some aspect of the individual’s educational or recreational interests.  If the individual truly made a significant contribution to the park, it might be more appropriate to mention the individual in the context of an informational folder or interpretive exhibit. 


Attempts to commemorate former NPS employees can be especially sensitive.  NPS employees must keep in mind that, although we are the paid caretakers of the parks, the parks belong equally to all Americans, and we should not use our positions of influence to bestow favored treatment on selected individuals.  Except for rare situations, our options for honoring the memory of NPS friends and co-workers should be the same as those available to persons who are not park employees.  Park managers do have the additional option, however, of establishing a “wall of honor” or a similar commemorative display within the confines of an administrative building or in a similar location frequented by park employees.  A display of this sort could both recognize the special contributions of park employees and serve as a focal point for remembering those who have departed.


      b.  Consultation.  The Board requires that other potentially interested parties, such as Federal and State agencies, tribal governing bodies, local governments and the general public, be given the opportunity to comment on a naming proposal.  Although the Board routinely tends to these matters, the Board’s review and action on a proposal will be expedited if the proponent performs the consultation early in the process and receives expressions of support.  The proponent should make every effort to ensure that those consulted during the process are apprised of the policies and guidelines of the Board’s PPPs.


As part of the consultation process (and in the case of “recognized” tribes, in accordance with Executive Order 13175: Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments), the NPS will especially take into account the sensitivities of Native Americans who have a traditional association with the affected geographic area.  NPS employees who propose geographic names or who, on behalf of the NPS, review names proposed by others, must try to ascertain whether the proposed name:


·        is in conflict with a name that Native Americans have already applied to the feature (recognizing that Native Americans from more than one group may apply names to any given feature). 

·        might be offensive to Native Americans. 


This should be accomplished through (1) direct consultation with affected tribal governments and their designees; (2) consultation with others who may have pertinent specialized knowledge or expertise; and (3) a search of the relevant literature.


----------End of Director’s Order----------


[1] The Board maintains a presence on the Web at http://geonames.usgs.gov.

[2] The Geographic Names Information System is available and searchable on the Web at http://geonames.usgs.gov/pls/gnispublic.

[3] The DNC has invited park managers who have a close working relationship with nearby local and tribal governments to consult on behalf of the Department of the Interior with those authorities on other geographic naming proposals, regardless of whether the proposals would impact park interests.