Oregon Geographic Names 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 the Geographic Names Board

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.

2021 OGNB Board Members and Advisors (Updated July 30, 2021)

Proposing a Name

Geographic naming in Oregon is a public process by which anyone can submit a formal proposal for consideration. The OGNB’s Interim Committee...

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Domestic Geographic Names Report Form

Proposals for new names, name changes, and name corrections should be made using this form and submitted directly to the OGNB either by email or...

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Board Meetings and Name Proposals

Information about upcoming OGNB meetings, along with agendas and minutes of past meetings are listed here, as well as documentation for all proposals under consideration.

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News Coverage

Lewis L. McArthur

Oregon family’s century of stories behind names of state’s towns, rivers, and mountains

AUGUST 25, 2021

By Feliks Banel. Since the 1920s, a family in Oregon has taken it upon themselves to research the history of how towns, rivers, and other geographic features in the Beaver State got their names, and then take what they’ve found and publish it all in what’s been a landmark reference work for nearly a century. There are seven editions of Oregon Geographic Names published between 1928 and 2003, and all are now out of print. And this is a shame, because while the book is all about exactly what it sounds like it would be about, it’s not just some printed database. It’s well-written and engaging, and filled with stories about thousands of places and the people who named them.

This picture taken on May 2, 2021, shows an aerial view of a lake in Baytown, Tex., one of the bodies of water and lands with pejorative names for ethnic minorities that are getting new names. (FRANCOIS PICARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Federal board approves removal of ‘Negro’ from more than a dozen place names in Texas

The Washington Post
June 10, 2021

By Silvia Foster-Frau. SAN ANTONIO — A federal board gave unanimous approval Thursday to removing "Negro" from the name of more than a dozen sites in Texas, more than two decades after the agency rejected a nearly identical request. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved name-change requests for 16 sites in one sweeping vote. The action came after the Texas legislature passed a bipartisan resolution last month urging the federal agency to approve removal of the racially offensive term from more than two dozen sites and rename them. The remaining sites listed in the resolution are expected to be submitted for a name-change request soon. “This day has been a long time coming, but I am proud to see this change finally happen,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said in a statement. But, he added, the work is not done — there are still hundreds of sites across the country with racially offensive and outdated names.

Phoenix’s Piestewa Peak was renamed in 2008 to honor Lori Piestewa, the first Native American woman to die serving in the U.S. military. Previously, the mountain’s name contained an offensive slur for Indigenous women. Credit: Kyle Kempt/Unsplash

Racist Slurs in Place-Names Have to Go, Say Geoscientists

EOS (American Geophysical Union)
March 19, 2021

More than a thousand geographic features in the United States have racial slurs in their name. The slurs include derogatory terms for people who are Black, Indigenous, and of Asian descent and are used in names for small features across the landscape, like valleys, creeks, and lakes. Now an open letter from four graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is calling on geoscientists to support a recent bill in Congress to help remove the names. The Reconciliation in Place Names Act would give a federal board more power to change offensive place-names. The letter authors say that geoscientists must make the outdoors safe for people of color by removing harmful language that makes the profession less welcoming.

A topographic map of Dead Indian Soda Springs in Jackson County, a name that is currently under review by state and local officials. Source: CalTopo

‘Dead Indian’ Mountain, Waterways Renamed After Latgawa People

Jefferson Public Radio
January 8, 2021

Southern Oregon started out the year with new geographic names for mountains and waterways that were once offensive. Three geographic features in Jackson County that were once called Dead Indian Mountain, Creek, and Soda Springs are now officially renamed after the Native Latgawa people. Senior researcher with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, Jennifer Runyon, says she hopes the new names will inspire people to research the Rogue Valley’s history. “By putting these names on the map and having people maybe seeing these for the first time, we’d like to think they would question that name,” Runyon says. “Do some research. Find out, what does it mean? And they would learn about that tribe that was essentially wiped off the landscape. Names tell stories, retain histories.”

Benjamin and Amanda Johnson. Image courtesy Lane County Historical Society.

A New Name For Applegate's 'Negro Ben' Mountain

November 27, 2020

At long last, "Ben" gets a last name: Johnson. Ben Johnson's full name will appear on maps indicating the mountain in the Applegate Valley heretofore known as "Negro Ben," which was itself a revising of an even more offensive name. Oregon Black Pioneers worked with the Oregon Geographic Names Board to get the name of the 19th-Century blacksmith applied to the mountain where he lived briefly during Oregon's gold rush. Zachary Stocks, OBP Executive Director, joins us to talk about Ben Johnson and the process of putting his name on his old home mountain.

Contacting the Oregon Geographic Names Board

Current OGNB officers are Bruce Fisher, President; Champ Vaughan, Vice President and Interim Chair; and Kerry Tymchuck, Secretary. Past President, Phil Cogswell.

To reach the board please contact:

Bruce Fisher (Board President)
Phone: 503-319-1714

Champ Vaughan (Vice President and Interim Chair)

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.