National Geographic : 1896 Jul
222 WORK OF THE BOARD ON GEOGRAPHIC NAMES During the five years or more of its existence the board has held 48 meetings and has decided 2,835 cases. Its modus ope randiissimple and direct. The cases of disputed nomenclature which reach it are referred at once to an executive committee consisting at present of the representatives of the Geological Survey, Navy Department, and Coast and Geodetic Survey. An investigation of each case is made by this executive committee, which reports it, with recommendations, to the board, which makes a final decision. For such decision a majority of the entire board is necessary. It not infrequently happens, there fore, that it is only by a unanimous vote of those present at a meeting that definite action can be taken. Geographic names may be broadly distinguished into two classes: those which are established by usage, commonly local usage, and those which are not so established. In regard to the former class, the primary principle which controls the decisions of the board is that local usage ought to prevail. What the people call themselves and what they call the natural features lying within their jurisdiction should, unless there is good reason to the contrary, be the names thereof. That this is just and proper surely goes without saying. In general, every man has a right to insist that other people call him by the name which he selects and accept that spelling of his name which he chooses to adopt. The rights which a man has over his own name, a community has over its own name and over the names of all natural features lying within its jurisdiction. Lest it should appear that I am dwelling too much on this aspect of the case and arguing a self-evident proposition, let me quote from an article recently published in Justus Perthes' Geograph ische Mittheilungen, which will show that there are men, and men of eminence, too, who do not accept this principle. "The practical Americans have had since 1890 a Bureau of Geographic Names. . . The establishment of this Bureau on Geographic Names and its first decisions were referred to in our last report. We gave a hearty greeting to the new creation, and added to the greeting a few sug gestions; but these have not been considered. Nay, more, the later de cisions of the board, about 700 in number, relating to geographic names at home and abroad, correspond still less to the most reasonable expecta tions. We miss the principle that the original form of the name, the meaning and etymology of the name, the motive for naming, is to be con sidered, and considered first and foremost. We miss the scientific spirit, which, instead of cleaving to the form, unlocks the intrinsic meaning, and accordingly we miss in the works of a government board of names all evidence of acquaintance with toponymic literature."