The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) is one of the nine expert groups of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and deals with the national and international standardization of geographical names. Every five years they hold the United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names.
The question of standardizing geographical names was raised by the United Nations Cartographic Section of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in the late 1940s. After discussions in the 1950s and ECOSOC resolution 715A (XXVII) of 1959, the first meeting of a group of experts was convened in New York City in 1960. This group recommended that a UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names be held. In 1967 this took place in Geneva, with the confirmation that national standardization should be the basis of international standardization.
The remit of UNGEGN is to deal with the problems of domestic and international standardization of geographical names, and to offer suggestions and recommendations for (mainly linguistic) standardization. Being one of the seven expert groups of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, UNGEGN is mandated to follow up on the implementation of resolutions and to continue activities between the United Nations Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names held every five years. UNGEGN aims to emphasize the importance of the standardization of geographical names at the national and international levels, to show the benefits of this, and to assist countries in standardization of geographical names where it is lacking. Furthermore, UNGEGN facilitates and encourages the discussion of the results of work on national standardization and arising issues, the dissemination of best practices, and a wide user community awareness of nationally authorized geographical names.
UNGEGN reports to the UN Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names held at five-yearly intervals. It is supported by a Secretariat provided by the United Nations Statistics Division, and its Bureau. UNGEGN meets formally on two occasions between Conferences and works on names standardization through Working Groups and Special task teams, as well as through Divisions. These so-called Divisions are groups of countries with common interests based on geography and/or language. To interact with other scientific organizations, UNGEGN has appointed a number of liaison officers.
The UNGEGN Bureau consists of a Chair, two Vice-Chairs and two Rapporteurs. The current Bureau is composed as follows:
UNGEGN is composed of experts from various linguistic/geographical divisions that have been established by the UN Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names. Countries decide for themselves the division(s) to which they wish to belong; some belong to more than one division. A division chair is selected within a division and he/she is encouraged to stimulate activities in the standardization of geographical names within the division, through technical meetings, correspondence, etc.
Currently, there are 24 divisions that guide the work of UNGEGN during and between its sessions:
Under the umbrella of UNGEGN, several Working Groups have been created to follow up topics and issues which cut across the Divisional structure of UNGEGN. In addition, UNGEGN has a Task Team for Africa and coordinates the work of countries in developing their Toponymic Guidelines.
Currently there are 9 UNGEGN Working Groups:
The former Working Group on Pronunciation has been disbanded in 2017.
The United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names is a periodic international conference organised by the United Nations Statistical Commission, the central purpose of which is to facilitate the standardization of national geographical names. The purpose of the Conference is not to settle political disputes between states on the use (or non-use) of particular geographical names.
The conference takes place every five years at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. It can be conducted at a different location, if a country offers to host the conference and to pay the additional costs of hosting the conference away from UN HQ. Each country may send a delegation. Members of these delegations are mainly experts on geographical names from their respective countries.
The most recent conference, the 11th, was held in New York in August 2017.