The Board of Geographic Names and the Removal of Derogatory and Offensive Toponyms in the United States

Reference work entry


Although much of the literature on controversies over the naming of geographic features has been associated with the names of cultural features, the naming or renaming of mountains, streams, and other physical features on the landscape has also been controversial in many cases. In the United States, the US Board on Geographic Names (BGN) is responsible for determining and authorizing the use of official names for physical landscape features. The Board is charged with resolving conflicts involving the use of offensive or derogatory names. In this chapter, the process of conflict resolution is discussed using recent examples, illustrating the wide range of names that various groups regard as offensive.


Toponyms Landscape features Derogatory language Native Americans African-Americans Name changes 


  1. Alderman, D. H. (2003). Street names and the scaling of memory: The politics of commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. within the African-American community. Area, 35, 163–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Associated Press. (2016, August 12). Feds rename Harney Peak, South Dakota’s highest peak, to Black Elk Peak. Rapid City Journal.
  3. Berger, K. (2015, October 28). The Northwest’s “Squaw” problem. Crosscut.
  4. Berlin, J. (2015, September 18). Who decides what names go on a map?”
  5. Bright, W. (2004). Native American placenames in the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  6. Burr, T. (2017, October 13). Utah’s Negro Bill Canyon renamed Grandstaff Canyon by federal board. Salt Lake Tribune.
  7. Dobbyn, P. (2011, September 7). In Alaska, a beautiful stream is FUBAR no more. Sit News.
  8. Dwyer, O. J., & Alderman, D. H. (2008). Civil rights memorials and the geography of memory. Athens: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar
  9. Leib, J. (2012). A talk of two civil war statues: Teaching the geographies of memory and heritage in Norfolk, Virginia. Southeastern Geographer, 52, 398–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Myers, A. L. (2008, April 10). Squaw Peak is officially renamed for Piestewa.
  11. National Park Service. (2017). Denali or Mount McKinley?
  12. Neihardt, J. G. (2008). Black Elk speaks: Being the life story of a holy man of the Oglala Sioux. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  13. Nick, I. M. (2017). Squaw teats, Harney Peak, and Negrohead Creek: A corpus-linguistic investigation of proposals to change official US Toponymy to (Dis)honor indigenous US Americans. Names: A Journal of Onomastics, 65, 223–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and Environmental SustainabilityUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

Personalised recommendations