Geographic Names

Tobin Lake in Southeast Alaska

Lake Emery Tobin named after the late
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 reasons to name a geographic feature is local usage of a name that has evolved over a period of years and can be supported by local petitions. Descriptive names are preferred. Native names are encouraged that are linguistically appropriate to the area and if on Native-owned land, the owner supports the proposed name. Changing an official name is done when a current name is derogatory, causing confusion, or there evidence of extensive local support by authorities and residents. There must be a commanding reason to name a feature in designated wilderness areas of the state. For commemorative names, the individual must have been dead or the event occurred at least five years earlier, and the significant contribution 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. Upon receipt of a proposal, it is reviewed for completeness. Of particular concern is that adjacent land owners know of the proposal and agree with the proposed name. The proposal is sent to relevant Native groups, public land managers, local governments, and the interested parties for comment. The proposal and all comments received are reviewed 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 submitted 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.


If you are interested in submitting a proposal to name a geographic feature in Alaska, please read the guidelines. Please print the Geographic Names Application, fill it out, and mail it to the Office of History and Archaeology, 550 W. 7th Ave, Suite 1310, Anchorage, Alaska 99501-3565. Applications are also available at the Office of History and Archaeology

More information on the U.S. Board on Geographic Names can be found at or by clicking on the icon below.

Logo for the United States Board on Geographic Names