About the Board
Geographic names have been documented and standardized in the United States since 1890 when President Benjamin Harrison established the United States Board on Geographic Names (USBGN.) Its authority was further extended by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and established in its present form by an act of Congress in 1947.
With the same concerns as the federal government, Governor George Chamberlain established the Oregon Geographic Board by executive order dated October 1, 1908, and it later became known as the Oregon Geographic Names Board (OGNB.) By 1911, the USBGN recognized the OGNB as the official advisor and state geographic names authority of Oregon. In 1959, Governor Mark Hatfield transferred the administration of the OGNB from state government to the Oregon Historical Society.
Purpose of OGNB
The purpose of the OGNB is to supervise the naming of geographic features within the state of Oregon and to make recommendations to the USBGN, which has final approval authority. The Board also serves in an advisory capacity to federal, State, and local government by reviewing administrative name proposals.
The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) is the custodian of the OGNB’s correspondence and records and provides the OGNB with limited administrative support. The OGNB operates under its own bylaws, and the Executive Director of the OHS serves as permanent secretary and as one of the board members. The OGNB is comprised of 25 board members, 24 of whom serve without compensation and are appointed to three-year terms by the secretary. The president and vice-president are elected to two-year terms by its membership, and the president appoints committees as needed. The board members represent all of the state’s geographic regions and are selected for their knowledge of the state’s geography and history. Advisors from State and federal land management and mapping agencies and the private sector serve as consultants to the Board.
Proposing a New Geographic Name or Changing an Existing Name
Geographic naming in Oregon is a public process by which anyone can submit a formal proposal for consideration. Proposals for new names, name changes, and name corrections should be made using OGNB’s Domestic Geographic Names Report (DGNR) form and submitted directly to the OGNB either by email or through the US mail. The OGNB’s Interim Committee reviews and investigates all incoming proposals and makes recommendations to the full Board. The full Board meets twice a year to vote on name proposals with a late fall meeting usually in Portland and an early summer meeting held elsewhere in the state. The OGNB’s recommendations are submitted to the USBGN for final action.
Contacting the Oregon Geographic Names Board
Current OGNB officers are Phil Cogswell, President; Paul Levesque, Vice-President; and Kerry Tymchuk, Secretary. Past President, Sharon Nesbit.
The postal mailing address is Oregon Geographic Names Board, Oregon Historical Society, 1200 S.W. Park Avenue, Portland, OR 97205.
For more information on place names in Oregon, see Lewis L. McArthur’s Oregon Geographic Names, 7th Edition, published by the Oregon Historical Society Press.