5 January 1996


(Tallinn, 26 - 27 October 1995)

[Russian version]

1. By the invitation of the Governmental Place Names Committee of Estonia the First Meeting of the Baltic Division of the United Nations Group of Experts (UNGEGN) was held in Tallinn, Estonia, at the premises of Eesti Kaardikeskus (Estonian Map Centre) State Enterprise on 26 - 27 October 1995.

2. The meeting was attended by 33 experts from 8 countries, including 27 participants from three member countries of the Baltic Division (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and 6 observers from 5 countries (Belarus, Norway, Sweden, Ukraine, United States). The list of participants is attached in annex 1. The list of working papers is contained in annex 2.


3. The Vice-Chancellor of the Ministry of the Interior, Mr. Tiit Sepp, opened the meeting, and conveyed the welcoming statement of Mr. Tiit Vähi, the Prime Minister, currently also in the capacity as the Minister of the Interior and the Chairman of the Place Names Committee.

4. Mr. Sepp proposed that the meeting be chaired consecutively by representatives from the three member countries of the Baltic Division. It was agreed that Mr. Henn Saari (Estonia) would chair the meeting on 26 October. The meeting on 27 October was chaired by Mr. Jurģis Kavacs (Latvia) and by Mr. Vidas Garliauskas (Lithuania). Ms. Elvi Sepp and Ms. Helga Laasi acted as secretaries to the meeting. It was agreed that both English and Russian would be accepted as working languages.

5. Mr. Päll informed the participants of two messages received prior to the meeting. The representatives of the Russian Federation expressed their regret that due to unforeseen circumstances they were not able to attend the meeting. At the same time they confirmed the wish of the Russian Federation to remain permanent member of the Baltic Division and to receive all relevant documents of the meeting. Ms. Eeva Maria Närhi from the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland expressed in her message delight about the good start of the work of the Baltic Division and wished the greatest success to the first meeting of the Division and to all the delegates of it. Acknowledging the significant role that Ms. Närhi had played for the Baltic Division, by disseminating information on the international process of geographical names standardization, the delegates unanimously voted to send a message of greeting to Ms. Närhi.


6. The participants adopted the following agenda:

  1. Opening of the meeting
  2. Organizational matters:
  3. Information on the Sixth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names and the 17th session of the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names
  4. National standardization of geographical names:
  5. Principles of writing foreign place names, transcription and romanization systems
  6. Exonyms and possibilities of reducing their use
  7. Application of the principles of the United Nations conferences on the standardization of geographical names:
  8. Other items
  9. Closing of the meeting


7. Mr. Päll informed the participants (working paper No. 1) of the main aims of the United Nations conferences on the standardization of geographical names. He reminded that the Baltic Division of UNGEGN was created on the initiative of the Baltic states expressed at their regional meeting on the standardization of geographical names held 7-8 May 1992 in Tallinn. Various documents had been presented to the Sixth UN conference and to the 17th Session of UNGEGN by the Baltic states, including toponymic guidelines for Estonia and the report of the Baltic Division. Mr. Päll also referred to the Statute of UNGEGN which specified the organization of the linguistic/geographical divisions of UNGEGN.


(a) Structure and functions of national authorities on geographical names; legal aspects of standardization

8. Ms. Sepp reported (working paper No. 2) on the formation of the Governmental Place Names Committee of Estonia on 2 November 1994. The committee had been constituted by order of the Government and subordinated to the Ministry of the Interior with the Minister acting as its Chairman by Statute. The tasks of the committee included the elaboration of the principles of national standardization and official use of place names; participation in preparing legal acts and other regulations concerning place names; advising the Government and other interested institutions in the standardization and use of place names; compilation and distribution of toponymic training materials; dissemination of information on place names in Estonia and abroad. The committee consisted of representatives of various key ministries as well as place name experts and local government representatives. The topics of the committee agenda had included place names of Naissaar, renaming some of the shoals in the Baltic Sea, recommendations to municipalities concerning names of farmsteads, etc. In response to questions from Mr. Kavacs and Mr. Pētersons it was noted that, where possible, dialectal and minority-language forms were introduced to maps. The Estonian-Swedish names would be written in Swedish orthography.

9. Mr. Bušs characterized the draft law on the protection of place names in Latvia. While the text of the law was shorter than that of Estonia, it had already passed the first reading in Parliament and was likely to be adopted by the newly elected Saeima. The text of the law stated that toponyms of Latvia could be formed in the Latvian and Livonian languages. The main aim of the law would be to protect place names from frequent and unjustified changes. The procedures to initiate name-changes included the local government and the committee on toponyms at the Council of Ministers. If no objections would be raised in a given period, the name-decisions would be endorsed. The committee on toponyms at the Council of Ministers was formed in 1992, it comprised linguists, geographers and historians but not ministry officials; Mr. Bušs was the committee's chairman. In response to a question from Ms. Razmukaitė it was noted that no specific punishments for breaking the law had been envisaged. Clarification was sought by Mr. Nilsson about recent name-changes that necessitated the adoption of the law. Mr. Bušs indicated that new farm owners often tended to ignore the traditional names of their farms.

10. Mr. Helleland introduced working paper No. 3 on the Norwegian Place Name Act. He summarized the main provisions of the law sanctioned on 18 May 1990. The place name act provided for the creation of positions for place name advisors and secretaries for each of the four university regions in the country. The standardization was to be based on local pronunciation and current spelling rules. An appeals committee had been established to deal with complaints about the standardized forms of place names. A central computerized register of all Norwegian place names in official use was being compiled under the direction of the Norwegian Mapping Authority. Responding to Ms. Balode he told that the place name advisors met regularly to co-ordinate their acitivities. The Norwegian Place Name Act did not regulate name-changes, although amendments to fulfil the gap could be possible.

11. Ms. Razmukaitė described the legal aspects of the standardization of geographical names in Lithuania. The standardization of toponyms, foremost names of populated places, was the prerogative of the Government according to adopted legal acts. The Lithuanian language committee at Parliament had formed a subcommittee to deal with place names; it comprised linguists, onomasticians, cartographers, as well as a representative of the Government. The committee had the power to establish rules for writing place names, it also discussed various questions related to the use of names on maps and in schoolbooks. There was an inspection to supervise the enforcement of linguistic regulations. In response to a question from Mr. Kavacs it was noted that official listings of names existed for populated places, isolated farmsteads, waterstreams, lakes, forests and swamps. Ms. Razmukaitė also explained the standardization of dialectal toponyms. Answering the question of Ms. Liubarets' she indicated that while the official language was Lithuanian and the official place names were in Lithuanian, Polish names could be used unofficially, incl. in the Polish-language media. She also added that there was a provisional committee to deal with foreign place names.

12. Mr. Päll described the Estonian draft law on place names (working papers No. 4 and 5). A working group had been established in November 1994 by the Place Names Committee to draw up the draft. Having been once reviewed by the Ministry of Justice, it was thoroughly reshaped. The draft established procedures for geographical names standardization and specified requirements to be considered in standardizing names. The latters concerned the language and orthography of place names; the use of principal and alternative place names; restrictions in the choice and duplication of place names. A special provision was made to the use of minority names by adding that linguistic situation prior to September 1939 had to be taken into account. This guaranteed the protection of indigenous Estonian place names in north-eastern Estonia and Swedish place names in north-western coastal areas despite the later vast changes in the ethnic composition of these areas. An advisory Place Names Board would be set up according to the place names act.

13. Answering a question by Mr. Duksa Mr. Päll explained that although there was a national standardization board in Estonia, it did not deal with the standardization of geographical names. Mr. Kavacs asked about the prohibition of names with "vulgar or pejorative connotations". Mr. Päll said that in the case of name disputes the Place Names Board could be asked for an authoritative opinion. Such connotations could also be reasons for name-changes if the majority of the local population wished so. Mr. Bušs noted that besides having been translated for this meeting into Russian and English, there was a Latvian translation of the draft text as well. Clarifications were sought by Ms. Razmukaitė and Ms. Strautniece about the restriction of name duplication, especially in the case of administrative changes. In response to a question from Mr. Helleland it was noted that the Ministry of the Environment would have the power to authorize names of physical features for national registers and cadastres. Other such names could either be authorized by local governments or entered on maps as unofficial names, after consultations with local governments and the Place Names Board.

14. Mr. Nilsson briefly characterized the work and structure of Swedish names authorities (working paper No. 6). He referred to the National Land Survey of Sweden and specifically to the Place Names Advisory Board that dealt with the standardization of geographical names. Also, the Institute for Language and Folklore Research with four institutes for place name research and the Central Office of National Antiquities played an important role in names standardization. Legal aspects of standardization were to be addressed by a specially appointed governmental committee.

15. Mr. Potter described the activities of the National Land Board (working paper No. 7), established in 1990. The Government Order on Geodetic and Cartographic Survey from 14 April 1994 gave the National Land Board the right to direct the establishment of geodetic network, national mapping and handling of databases. The most important projects supported by the Land Board included the compilation of the Basic Map (scale 1 : 20,000; program approved in 1991), Estonian Base Map (1 : 50,000; in co-operation with Sweden) and ortophotographical mapping of built-up areas (1 : 2,000). Work on the projects was mainly carried out by the Eesti Kaardikeskus (Estonian Map Centre) State Enterprise. In recent years private companies had also started to take more interest in the production of maps. Responding to a question by Mr. Duksa Mr. Potter explained the current practice of licensing the production of maps and expertise made on maps. A consortium of map publishers, Eesti Kaardikoda, had recently undertaken the expertise of the Basic Map.

(b) Field collection and treatment of place names

16. Mr. Helleland described procedures for the collection and data recording of place names in Norway (working paper No. 8). The aim was to register scientifically all the name material available in oral and written sources. A number of local authorities had undertaken such projects. In 1987 it was decided to establish the Norwegian Place Name Database; the University of Oslo initiated the work in 1991. Mr. Helleland explained the financing, organization, personnel and training in the collection of place names, also the type of information that was being gathered. Ms. Balode asked if there were certain intervals of visiting areas where toponyms were collected, e.g. the interval in Latvia was estimated to be 10 years. Mr. Helleland said that such an interval would not be realistic in Norway considering the vast area to be collected.

17. Mr. Kavacs presented working paper No. 9 about the main principles of choosing toponyms for the Base Map of Latvia (1 : 50,000). In particular, establishing original names through Cyrillic transcriptions posed problems. Earlier maps, from both the pre-war (1920-1940) and the Soviet period contained mistakes or were outdated. The names of populated places (settlements) were not duly authorized, the only official names there being those for municipalities and farmsteads. A draft list of settlement names was compiled in 1991-1992 and it was being verified in field work. Following the question by Ms. Sepp there was a discussion about the classification and delimitation of rural settlements. It was noted that there were many similarities in this aspect in Latvia and Estonia. Mr. Kavacs also told that at present 6 people are working on the toponymy project. Answering to Mr. Duksa he specified the types of physical features to be included in the Base Map. Ms. Strautniece noted that if there were two or more farmsteads with identical names in the same municipality, only one of them was allowed to keep its name. Attempt was made to preserve other names by adding qualifying words.

(c) Toponymic guidelines for map and other editors

18. No papers were presented on this item of the agenda.

(d) Place names databases and computerization of data

19. Ms. Balode listed the main toponymic databases and dictionaries in Latvia (working paper No. 10). The largest card index of Latvia's toponyms (about 1.5 million entries) was held at the Latvian Language Institute. It contained an alphabetical card index of all toponyms and a full collection of 512 civil parishes. The Department of Geography at the University of Latvia had a collection of about 50,000 names for physical features. The toponymic dictionaries included those of J. Endzelns (2 volumes in 1922-1925; 2 volumes, but not completed in 1956-1961), J. Plāķis (1936, 1939) and V. Dambe (1990). Questions were presented by Mr. Helleland and Mr. Duksa about the inclusion of duplicate names and the participation of other institutions in the compilation of dictionaries.

20. Ms. Lakson characterized toponymic databases at the Eesti Kaardikeskus State Enterprise (working paper No. 11). The Base Map (1 : 50,000) project included a digital names database, at present about 50% of it had been completed. The base map database was being used for the Census Map of Estonia as well. Ms. Lakson emphasized the importance of toponyms for map production but said that the work needed to compile names databases had often been underestimated. There followed a discussion, initiated by Mr. Turlajs about the need to disseminate information on name-changes and other vital facts to keep up-to-date the various names databases in the Baltic states.

21. Mr. Flynn listed the main activities of the United States Board on Geographic Names in compiling gazetteers and databases. The geographical names data were divided into two broad categories: there was a domestic names database and one for foreign geographical names. The latter was being compiled on the basis of authoritative maps and other materials from the countries concerned.

22. Mr. Päll reported (working paper No. 12) that since 1988 there had been attempts to computerize place names data at the Institute of the Estonian Language. A new version of the database (KNAB) operated since 1994, containing about 28,000 entries on rural settlements, administrative units, streets, exonyms, etc. Mr. Päll characterized the structure and functions of the database, such as data elements, writing conventions, data-processing programmes, etc. One of the aims of the database was to facilitate the production of place names dictionaries and to meet the needs of names standardization. External access to the data was not restricted in principle, although using uncompleted parts of the data posed problems. Answering to Ms. Strautniece Mr. Päll said that as a national place names register was envisaged by the draft Place Names Act, co-operation between linguists and cartographers was needed to launch the register. Ms. Lakson also noted the need to agree on a data exchange format. Ms. Aučynnikova stressed the importance of geographical coordinates in names databases. Mr. Päll told that older or dialectal name variants would be included in the names data of the Institute of the Estonian Language. He said that consultations were held between linguists and cartographers on the use of dialectal name forms on maps.

23. Mr. Helleland presented part of the working paper No. 8, giving details of the computer registration of collected names. There were 33 fields of limited size and one unlimited field for comments used to record one name.

24. Mr. Garliauskas described the place names collections at the Institute of the Lithuanian Language. There was a card index of modern toponyms containing data on pronunciation (incl. dialectal) and location of the name (parish or settlement); in addition, a card index of historical toponyms and that of sources contained about 300,000 entries. Unpublished lists of settlements contained about 12,000 names, many of them obsolete. Computerization of the data had not yet started.

25. Ms. Liubarets' reported that a national programme was being worked out in the Ukraine on geographical names database. Legal acts were needed to promote names standardization. The Main Administration of Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre would be responsible for the creation of the database. It would be based on maps of scale 1 : 100,000. Problems of presenting dialectal variants and romanizing Ukrainian place names were being addressed. The database of urban toponymy was also planned but the question of language of street names (either Ukrainian or Russian) was not yet properly solved. A conference was lately held in the Ukraine on names databases. One of the topics of the conference inluded the impact of computerization on human psyche.

(e) National gazetteers

26. Ms. Goba listed the main gazetteers in Latvia that had appeared during the past ten years (working paper No. 13). These included names of water bodies, water streams, names of populated places and their residents, street names of Liepāja as well as names for physical features for several of Latvia's districts. Much attention was paid to mapping the location of geographical names. The work was planned in two directions: to collect data on the whole of Latvia and to research into toponymy of individual districts. Responding to Mr. Duksa's question Ms. Goba said that on an average, there were about 1,000 names of physical features per district but it varied.


27. Mr. Duksa described the principles of writing foreign place names in the 1 : 200,000 map series of Lithuania. Original spellings were used for countries with Roman scripts (Latvia, Poland), the names of Belarus (in Byelorussian) and Russia (Kaliningrad Region) were presented in transcription. All in all the map series contained about 13,000 names that were examined by the Institute of the Lithuanian Language. Mr. Duksa expressed his gratitude to the United States Board of Geographic Names for a Gazetteer of Lithuania that together with a digital database was presented to Lithuania. Mr. Flynn answered the question of Ms. Razmukaitė by informing that the main sources used in the compilation of the gazetteer included pre-war maps of Lithuania as well as more recent sources listed in the introduction to the gazetteer.

28. Several other participants commented on the situation in their countries. Ms. Liubarets' indicated that instructions were being compiled on the transcription of foreign names into Ukrainian. Some of them had already been completed, in particular those for the neighbouring countries. Ms. Razmukaitė reported that the Lithuanian Language Committee had adopted rules for the writing of geographical names of the neighbouring territories.

29. Ms. Liubarets' reported that there were no amendments to the provisional rules for the romanization of Ukrainian names. The rules that were adopted by the Main Administration of Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre continued to be used. There was discussion in the Ukraine on some technical aspects of the rules.

30. Ms. Aučynnikova reported that there were no national rules for the romanization of Byelorussian names. Currently the central mapping office had adopted a romanization system based on GOST 1983. At the same time the Byelorussian Academy of Sciences and, particularly, linguists had proposed another system (working paper No. 14) that used a mixture of Polish and Czech or Russian spelling conventions. She indicated that both these systems needed elaboration before a national system could be adopted.


31. Mr. Garliauskas characterized the use of exonyms in the Lithuanian language and listed three types of exonyms. In particular, he drew attention to the names of the Kaliningrad Region (Russian Federation) where the place names were originally of Baltic origin. The names were later germanized and then, after the Second World War, totally changed.

32. Discussion followed on the exact definition of exonyms. Mr. Päll indicated that the current definition of exonyms by UNGEGN was mainly politically-based, taking into consideration the modern status of language(s) in a given territory and excluding historical aspects. Mr. Helleland reported that the main item of the next meeting of the Norden Division would be exonyms. Mr. Kavacs suggested that exonyms should be treated differently depending on the intended international or domestic use of maps. Mr. Jagomägi and Mr. Krišjānis questioned the possibility of differentiating between these two categories of maps. It was agreed that every attempt should be made to reduce the use of exonyms.


(a) Organization of the Baltic Division

33. Mr. Päll suggested that the chairmanship of the Baltic Division be organized on a rotational basis and, as a rule, the Chairman be elected for five years after which another Chairman from another country would take the position. The participants of the meeting unanimously adopted the principle.

34. Mr. Päll proposed that the Chairman would be elected from among the Latvian delegation and asked if Mr. Bušs would consent to chair the Division. Mr. Bušs indicated that as Mr. Päll had already de facto performed the duties of Chairman (including the representation of the Baltic Division at the previous UNGEGN session), he should continue until the Seventh United Nations conference on the standardization of geographical names. There followed a discussion on the exact period of chairmanship and the place of divisional meetings. Mr. Helleland explained the procedures of the Norden Division of UNGEGN. It was noted that currently there are four members of the Baltic Division (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Russian Federation) but the expansion of the division was not excluded.

35. The member countries of the Baltic Division elected Mr. Päll Chairman and Mr. Bušs Vice-Chairman of the Division. It was agreed that at a divisional meeting at the end of 1996 or at the beginning of 1997 a new Chairman and Vice-Chairman would be elected for a five-year period. The meeting was scheduled to take place in Rīga.

(b) Activities of other divisions of UNGEGN and co-operation between the divisions

36. Mr. Helleland reported (working paper No. 15) on the activities of the Norden Division of UNGEGN. He told that three meetings of the division had recently taken place. Much attention was being paid to the Nordic Names Database that included names of populated places, hydronyms, administrative data and others from the five Nordic countries.

37. Mr. Flynn noted the very active co-operation between the United States of America and Canada in their division of UNGEGN. They had regular meetings once a year. The United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) was striving for further co-operation with other divisions of UNGEGN. Particularly, Mr. Flynn mentioned the Latin America Division where toponymic training courses had been organized by the Pan American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH). Representatives of BGN had also participated in toponymic training courses held in Kiev (Eastern Europe, North and Central Asia Division of UNGEGN, May 1995) and at a congress in Africa.


38. Ms. Liubarets' reported on the toponymic traing courses held in Kiev, 16-19 May 1995 (working paper No. 16). She listed the main topics of the courses and noted the contribution of Mr. Flynn and Mr. Quinting to the success of the courses. She indicated the wish of the Ukrainian cartographers to participate in similar training courses for the Baltic Division. Ms. Strautniece and Mr. Kavacs supported the idea of organizing toponymic training courses in the Baltic region. Mr. Päll suggested that such courses be held in Rīga next year and hoped that experts from other UNGEGN divisions would provide their assistance in conducting the courses.


39. Participants from Latvia and Lithuania and representatives of other divisions of UNGEGN thanked hosts for the organization of the meeting of the Baltic Division and expressed their hope to continue co-operation in the field of geographical names standardization. Mr. Päll noted that the meeting site was provided by the National Land Board and Eesti Kaardikeskus State Enterprise, the secretariat of the meeting by the National Department of Local Governments and Regional Development and the National Language Board, and the logistical part by the Ministry of the Interior. He expressed his gratitude to the said institutions for their support of the meeting.

40. Mr. Sepp closed the meeting, thanking distinguished experts for their contribution to the success of the meeting. He expressed his hope that the activities of the Baltic Division would now be vigorously continued.