Putting Names on the Map?

Preparing a Naming Proposal 

The Historical Resources Act gives authority to make geographical naming decisions jointly to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation and the Minister of Culture and Community Spirit. However, over the last number of decades, the Government of Alberta has not generally been proactive in naming geographical features. The responsible authorities believe that it is more appropriate for the citizens of Alberta to play the key role in making naming proposals. So, how does a person suggest a name for a geographical feature? The short answer is to submit a proposal.

Applications or proposals to name a geographical feature are made to the Alberta Geographical Names Program. The application form is available on the program’s website along with the Geographical Names Manual, which will help guide applicants through the application process and provide some details about the research standards and principles that guide geographical naming in Alberta. It is highly recommended that applicants read the manual before starting the application to ensure that the proposed name is appropriate and meets the “Principles and Guidelines for Geographical Naming” (more on these in a future blog post).

On the application are a number of questions that should be completed as thoroughly as possible. This remainder of this blog post will walk you through the application form.

1.      Proposed Name: This is the new name or name change that is being proposed. Most names are binomial; they include both a specific and a generic as part of the name.

  • The specific is the part of the name that identifies that single feature;
  • The generic is the part of the name that identifies the type of feature;
  • For example, In Mount Lougheed, the generic “Mount” (identifies the feature as a mountain) and the specific “Lougheed” (identifies that individual mountain);

2.      Feature Type: Basically, what kind of geographical feature is it? (mountain, creek, river, hill, valley, etc.).

  • This is often the same as the generic, but not always. For example, Mount Lawrence Grassi (specific: “Lawrence Grassi” generic: “Mount”) is a single peak on the multi-peaked mountain known as Ehagay Nakoda.

3.      Location: Two items are required for this section, Latitude/Longitude and the Alberta Township Survey (ATS) coordinates.

  • Latitude/Longitude: must be in the Degree/Minute/Second form (ex. 49° 42’ 13” N & 114° 34’ 26” – lat/long for Crowsnest Mountain);
  • ATS: Should include the Meridian, Range, Township, Section and Legal Subdivision and/or quarter section;
  • For mountains, peaks, hills, etc. provide coordinates for the point of highest elevation;
  • For lakes, bays and other features that cover a large area, use the approximate centre of the feature;
  • For features like rivers and creeks use the point where the feature ends (typically where it enters a larger body of water or where it crosses a provincial boundary (into a neighbouring province, territory or state);

4.      Description of Feature: A basic long hand description of the feature.

  • Include the feature’s approximate altitude (for mountains, peaks, hills, etc.), direction of flow (for creeks, streams, coulees) and approximate distance from another prominent feature (such as the nearest town, city, village);
  • For example, Approximately 34 km south-east of Jasper (for Maligne Lake), or Flows north into the Battle River, approximately 46 km south of Lloydminster (for Ribstone Creek), or 2545m mountain, approximately 120 km north-west of Banff (for Mount Michener). 

5.      Origin of Proposed Name: Where does the name come from? Does it commemorate a person or event? Is it a widely-used local name? Does it have historical roots? 

6.      Commemorative Information:

  • The person, group or event being commemorated must have made a significant contribution to the province or region or have a strong connection to the feature being named;
  • Commemorative names are only considered following a minimum waiting period of five years after the event occurred or following the death of the individual;
  • There are a number of additional requirements that must be satisfied before commemorative names are accepted. These are listed in the Geographical Names Manual; 

7.      Local and/or Historical Name Information:

  • If the name being proposed is a non-official, locally-used name, provide details demonstrating that the name is widely accepted and currently used by area residents;
  • If the name being proposed is a historical name for the feature that may or may not be in current use, provide details and evidence of it past use. Some examples of where evidence can be found are historical maps; local histories; historical newspapers; accounts/diaries/journals of fur traders, explorers, early settlers/homesteaders, missionary/church records, military, NWMP records; oral histories and accounts of long-time residents, etc. 

8.      Reasons for Proposing Name:

  • Provide details about the motivation(s) for proposing the name?
  • Does the feature require a name for business purposes, to aid navigation, map-making and land marking?
  • Is the proposal part of a heritage or cultural undertaking? Anniversary of events or people? Community milestone or centennial year? 

9.      Additional Support:

  • The names and contact information for at least five people, other than the person making the proposal, must be included;
  • People listed as supporters will be contacted to verify their support and to gather additional information; 

10.  Attachments: There is some essential and some highly recommended (but not essential) material that should be included with every naming proposal.

  • Maps: All naming proposals are required to include a map showing the location and extent of the geographical feature in question. It is preferable that the map be the relevant National Topographical System (NTS) Map Sheet (1:50,000 scale);
  • Reference list: A bibliography or reference list of sources used to gather supporting evidence for a proposed name must also be included;
  • Copies of Evidence: Whenever possible, it is helpful to have a copy of any document used to support a proposed name’s local usage and/or historical origin.

Once the application form has been completed, the form, map and supporting documentation should be mailed to the Alberta Geographical Names Program. The naming process can be quite lengthy, so be sure to allow enough time in cases where milestone events are being commemorated.

Mailing address:

Old St. Stephen’s College

8820 – 112th St NW

Edmonton AB T6G 2P8

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator

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