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During the debates of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1948, the problem of standardization of geographical names was raised, particularly with regard to cartographic services. Impetus from the First Regional Cartographic Conference for Asia and the Pacific in 1955 led to ECOSOC resolution 715A (XXVII):

1. Requesting the Secretary-General

  • a. To provide encouragement and guidance to those nations which have no national organization for the standardization and co-ordination of geographical names to establish such an organization and to produce national gazetteers at an early date;

  • b. To take the necessary steps to ensure the following central clearing-house functions for geographical names:

Collection of gazetteers and information concerning the technical procedures that each Member State has adopted for standardization of domestic names;

Collection of information on the techniques and systems used by each Member State in the transliteration of the geographical names of other countries;

Dissemination to Member States and, upon request, to any working groups established on a common linguistic basis, of all documents and information collected, utilizing existing United Nations periodicals whereever feasible;

2. Further requesting the Secretary-General

  • a. To set up a small group of consultants chosen, with due regard to equitable geographic distribution and to the different linguistic systems of the world, from those countries having widest experience of the problems of geographical names:

To consider the technical problems of domestic standardization of geographical names, including the preparation of a statement of the general and regional problems involved, and to prepare draft recommendations for the procedures, principally linguistic, that might be followed in the standardization of their own names by individual countries;

To report to the Council at an appropriate session, in the light of its discussion on the above points, on the desirability of holding an international conference on this subject and of the sponsoring of working groups based on common linguistic systems;

  • b. To invite Governments of countries interested and experienced in the question to make available, at his request and at their own expense, consultants to serve on the above group.

The First United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names convened at Geneva from 4 to 22 September 1967. It was attended by 111 representatives and observers from 54 countries. The report of the First Conference (document E/4477) was presented to ECOSOC at its 44th session in 1968. The Council unanimously adopted a resolution (1314 (XLIV) in which it

  • noted the recommendations of the Conference;

  • invited the ad hoc Group of Experts to provide the necessary co-ordination national activities in that field;

  • approved as terms of reference for the ad hoc Group the specific matters; referred to it by the Conference;

  • directed it to carry forward the programme of co-operative activity agreed to at the Conference;

  • requested the Secretary-General, in consultation with the ad hoc group of experts, to consider the desirability of holding a second conference.

With this resolution, the future of both the Conferences and of the Group of Experts were firmly established.

After a second conference in 1972, the ad hoc experts group was formalized as the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN), to carry forward the programme of cooperation between conferences. Today, UNGEGN is one of the nine standing expert bodies of ECOSOC.

The United Nations Conference on the standardization of geographical names, convened every five years, with the objectives to:

  • encourage national and international geographical names standardization;

  • promote the international dissemination of nationally standardized geographical names information; and

  • adopt single romanization systems for the conversion of each non-Roman writing system to the Roman alphabet.

At the 11th United Nations Conference on Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN) in August 2017, the Conference decided that the UNCSGN and the UNGEGN be discontinued in their current formats and be subsumed by a subsidiary body of ECOSOC that will retain their respective mandates, and that the UNGEGN will convene biennial sessions, in principle, over a period of five days, beginning in 2019. The creation of the “new” UNGEGN was approved on 10 November 2017 in ECOSOC resolution 2018/2.


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