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Work on Geographical Names within the United Nations

Differences in language and notation, cultural attitudes and political conflicts have often led to different names being used for the same geographical location.

Names have been linguistically adapted, fully or partially translated or even distorted when they have been overtaken by foreign languages. In this way, the same geographical object have received multiple names, in an international context, that counteracts an unambiguous identification and localisation.

With the ambition to straighten these circumstances out, since the 1960s the UN has actively worked to attain an international standardization of the global state of place-names.


In 1973, the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names, UNGEGN, was formally founded. Today, UNGEGN is one of seven expert groups of ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council). Outside its meetings, UNGEGN functions through 24 geographical or linguistic divisions and through various working groups. Some of the issues currently addressed are digital data files, country names and toponymic guidelines.
UNGEGN's goal is for every country to decide on its own nationally standardized names through national name authorities, or through other recognized administrative processes. Within countries, the practical work of standardization is based on the agreements made within the UN. The progress of this work is reported to the UN at frequent meetings and conferences.

The Scandinavian countries participate in the work of UNGEGN as the Nordic Division. Sweden has been taking part in UN conferences regarding standardization of geographical names since 1967. These conferences take place every five year.

International standardization work

Lantmäteriet participates in the international standardization work to facilitate the exchange of geodata information within or between countries. International standardization work is pursued within the international standardisation organ ISO (TC211) and the European organ CEN (TC287). International standards and supporting services that promotes geospatial interoperability are developed by the OCG (Open Geospatial Consortium). Lantmäteriet participates in a group within the UN dealing with the standardization of place-names.

Sweden participates in international formal standardization work, i.e. ISO and CEN, through SIS (Swedish Standards Institute). Through SIS, its members can participate and influence the standardization process and also gain access to standards. Lantmäteriet contributes by providing experts to the international standardization work.


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