Geographic Names

Tobin Lake in Southeast Alaska

Lake Emery Tobin named for
Ketchikan resident, Emery Tobin 1895-1977

The Alaska Historical Commission is designated by statute as the geographic names board for the State of Alaska. The commission coordinates the program to name physical features in the state with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.


What are the principles and policies for geographic names?

The single, best reason to name a geographic feature is local usage of a name that has evolved over a period of years and is supported by local residents. Descriptive names are preferred. Native names are encouraged that are linguistically appropriate to the area. Changing an official name is only done when a current name is derogatory, causing confusion, or there is evidence of extensive local support by authorities and residents. There must be a commanding reason to name a feature in designated wilderness areas. For commemorative names, the individual must have been dead or the event occurred at least five years earlier, and the significant contributions of the person or importance of the event must be established. It is federal policy to identify a single official name and spelling for a geographic feature, though it might identify a number of variant names.


How is a proposal to officially name a feature made?

There is an application to propose an official name for a geographic feature in Alaska. Proposals must explain why the feature should be named and establish that area residents are aware of the proposal and given the opportunity to comment. The proposal must include a map clearly showing the feature the proposal addresses. Upon receipt of a proposal, it is reviewed. The Alaska Historical Commission conducts a public review process before considering a name proposed. Information is sent to relevant Native groups, public land managers, local governments, and other interested parties for comment. The proposal and all comments received are considered by the Alaska Historical Commission referencing their guidelines. Place names approved by the commission are official for the State of Alaska.

After the commission acts, the proposal is sent to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The USBGN is the final word on choice, spelling and official use of the place names in the U.S. This does not guarantee the name will appear on federal maps, but all official names are entered into the national Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), the official list.


Application

If you are interested in submitting a proposal to name a geographic feature in Alaska, please read the guidelines. Complete applications, a map, and supporting documents should be submitted to the Office of History and Archaeology, 550 W. 7th Ave, Suite 1310, Anchorage, Alaska 99501-3565; email oha@alaska.net; or fax 907-269-8908.