H 690 Formulating Geographic Headings


BACKGROUND: Headings for geographic names fall into two categories: (1) names of political jurisdictions, and (2) non-jurisdictional geographic names. Headings in the first category are established according to descriptive cataloging conventions with authority records that reside in the name authority file. Since these jurisdictional name headings are routinely assigned as subject headings, frequently in combination with non-free-floating subdivisions, many of them were also represented by authority records in the subject authority file. To alleviate the confusion caused by duplicate authority records, the Library of Congress ceased creating new subject authority records for name headings in January 1995 and began a project to delete existing duplicate authority records for name headings from the subject authority file. Headings in the second category are established according to guidelines in this instruction sheet with authority records that reside in the subject authority file. Headings for entities having geographic extent, including certain types of engineering constructions, are treated as geographic headings. The following is a representative list of such entities:


Archaeological sites, historic sites, etc.

Areas and regions (when not free-floating)



Extinct cities (pre-1500)

Farms, ranches, gardens

Forests, grasslands, etc.

Geographic features (for example, caves, deserts, non-jurisdictional islands, lakes, mountains, ocean currents, plains, rivers, seas, steppes, undersea features)

Geologic basins, geologic formations, etc.


Parks, reserves, refuges, recreation areas, etc.


Roads, streets, trails



This instruction sheet provides guidelines for formulating the substantive portion of non-jurisdictional geographic names established as subject headings. For procedures for qualifying geographic names, see H 810.


1. Obtaining the BGN approved form of name. For names of the United States, the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), U.S. Geological Survey (U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) domestic names system) is available on the World Wide Web. GNIS may be accessed and queried at http://geonames.usgs.gov/.


If the World Wide Web is not available, printouts of BGN's Geographic Names Information System Alphabetical Finding List for individual states of the United States may be consulted instead.

For foreign geographic names, the GEOnet Names Server (GNS) of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (the BGN foreign names system) is also available on the World Wide Web. It may be accessed and queried at If the World Wide Web is not available, gazetteers published by BGN may be consulted instead.


2. Additional authority research. Although the BGN decision, when it is obtained, is generally preferred over any other name forms, additional authority work is usually required for the following reasons:

   The BGN decision may not in itself be sufficient to determine if name conflicts exist and further qualification of the heading is necessary.

   In cases of conflict, research can confirm that the BGN decision does in fact refer to the same place discussed in the work being cataloged.

   For geographic names in non-English-speaking countries, reference sources may aid in the translation of generic terms, or may justify the choice of the conventional English form when BGN has supplied the name only in the vernacular form.

   Variant forms of the geographic name found in reference sources are useful as UF references in addition to the variants provided by BGN.


The BGN decision, when it is obtained, must be evaluated in conjunction with information found in the standard authorities available to subject catalogers. Consult additional authorities such as Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary, Columbia Gazetteer of the World, National Gazetteer of the United States of America, standard encyclopedias, atlases, titles in the data base, etc.


Cite the works consulted in 670 fields in the authority record, following the conventions for citation of sources described in H 203.


Record in a $b subfield of each 670 field any data that conflicts with, or supplements, the BGN decision.


Record any data showing that the name under consideration conflicts with other names. This serves to justify the form of the qualifier constructed in accordance with H 810.


3. Selecting the form of the heading.

a. The BGN decision. If the BGN decision has been obtained, favor it over any other name forms obtained from other sources. Adjust it or choose another name form only as necessary to conform with the other guidelines provided below.

If BGN provides more than one form, select the English form of the name, if one is provided. Select the conventional form if one is identified as such. Use the information found in other authorities as guidance in making a final decision.

If no BGN decision is obtained, select the form of name found to be in predominant usage in the reference sources that were consulted.


b. English vs. vernacular form. Select the English form of the name whenever possible, especially for geographic features. Examples:


b. English vs. vernacular form. Select the English form of the name whenever possible, especially for geographic features. Examples:





 Passo del San Gottardo
Peipsi järv

 Saint Gotthard Pass
Mount Fuji
The Sound
Lake Peipus

 Note: For purposes of these illustrations the geographic qualifiers are omitted.



If no English form is found, construct an English heading by translating the generic term into English. If, in the case of certain inflected languages, the resulting construction is grammatically awkward, use the noun form of the proper name in the nominative case, rather than either the adjectival form or the noun form in the genitive case. In such situations, provide UF references from the pure vernacular forms, as specified in sec. 10, below. Examples:


151 ## $a Strázov Mountains (Slovakia)

451 ## $w nnnn $a Strázovská hornatina (Slovakia)

451 ## $w nnnn $a Strázovské vrchy (Slovakia)

[not 151 ## $a Strázovská Mountains (Slovakia)]

[not 151 ## $a Strázovské Mountains (Slovakia)]


151 ## $a Gauja River (Latvia and Estonia)

451 ## $w nnnn $a Gaujas upe (Latvia and Estonia)

[not 151 ## $a Gaujas River (Latvia and Estonia)]


Use the vernacular form under the following circumstances:

  if the generic term is an integral part of the name and cannot be separated from the distinctive portion, for example, Kilpisjärvi (Finland and Sweden).

   when establishing parks, reserves, gardens, trails, streets, and roads in the vernacular. See H 1925 for specific instructions for parks, reserves, gardens, and trails; see H 2098 for streets and roads.

   if the entity in question is best known in the English-speaking world by its vernacular name, for example, Rio Grande; Blanc, Mont (France and Italy).


Use English-language gazetteers and reference sources to determine whether an entity is known in its vernacular form in the English-speaking world. If a vernacular form is used and it includes the generic term for the feature, do not add the English generic term to the heading. For example, Tien Shan is a conventional name which includes the Chinese term for mountains. Do not add Mountains to the heading.


4. Arrangement of elements appearing in the name. If necessary, rearrange the elements of the name so that the distinctive portion of the name occurs in the initial position.

a. Names in English. For entities in English-speaking countries, and for entities that have a conventional English name, invert the heading if necessary to put the distinctive portion of the name in the initial position. Examples:


 English Name

 Name Inverted 


 Firth of Forth

 Forth, Firth of

 Note: For purposes of

 Lake Erie

 Erie, Lake

 these illustrations the

 Mount Abbot

 Abbot, Mount

 geographic qualifiers are omitted.

 Gulf of Mexico

 Mexico, Gulf of


 River Wye

 Wye, River



b. Names in foreign languages. Translate the name and rearrange the elements to put the the name in the initial position. Since the resulting heading is not inverted, do not put a comma between the elements. Example:



 Final Form of Heading 

 Río Jiloca

 Jiloca River (Spain)



5. Abbreviations. Spell out in full all words in the substantive portion of the name. For provisions on the use of abbreviations in qualifiers, see H 810. Example:


 Saint Johns River (Fla.)       [not St. Johns River (Fla.)]


6. Initial articles. Anglicize names of geographic features that are located in non-English-speaking countries and that begin with an article by dropping the initial article and including a generic term in English describing the feature. Retain initial articles for non-English names in English-speaking countries. For English names beginning with the word The as an integral part of the name, retain The and invert the name. Examples:


 Name of Entity 

 Final Form of Heading

 La Huasteca [a region in Mexico]

 Huasteca Region (Mexico)

 Les Cévennes [mountains in France]

 Cévennes Mountains (France)

 Los Olmos Creek [a stream in Texas]

 Los Olmos Creek (Tex.)

 The Fens [a region in England]

 Fens, The (England)

 The Sound [conventional English name for sound between Denmark and Sweden]

 Sound, The (Denmark and Sweden)


7. Transliteration.

As a general rule, transliterate geographic names in non-Roman scripts by means of LC transliteration tables. If BGN provides a romanized form in conflict with LC's policy for the romanization of a particular script, convert the name to the LC form. However, if it is clear that a non-LC-romanized form is more commonly used in English-language reference sources, establish the heading using that form, and add a 451 field with the LC-romanized form.

Note: During 1999 the Library of Congress changed a limited number of name and subject headings that contain names of Chinese provinces and major cities from conventional to pinyin romanized forms. In October 2000 the Library discontinued use of the Wade-Giles system of romanization of Chinese in favor of pinyin in name and subject headings.


8. Conflicts. Conflicts involving geographic names may be resolved by designating the category of the feature in the parenthetical qualifier following a colon (cf. H 810) or by incorporating the generic term for the feature into the name itself. Prefer the latter method if it will resolve the conflict without causing redundancy. Example:


151 ## $a Madura Island (Indonesia)

[not 151 ## $a Madura (Indonesia : Island)]


Exception: For named regions that conflict with names of cities, include the term Region in the qualifier (cf. H 760, sec. 1.e.(2)).


9. Capitalization. When formulating names or references, use the appropriate current rules of capitalization for the language in question (see H 32 and Appendix A of AACR2).

For English forms of place names, capitalize all nouns and adjectives that are essential parts of the name. For example, in the heading Tatar Strait (Russia), the word Strait is capitalized since the heading is in English. However, in the UF reference from the vernacular form, Tatarskii proliv (Russia), the word proliv is lowercased in accordance with Russian capitalization rules.


10. References.

a. UF references. Add 451 fields with alternative forms, including:

   alternative name forms supplied by BGN or found in other authorities, and their LC romanized equivalents if different from the forms supplied or found.

   the straight form of the name if the heading is established in inverted form.

   the name in the vernacular, including variant forms, if the name is translated into English or a conventional English form is adopted. In this reference, a generic term may appear in the initial position.

   other pertinent foreign language forms, for example, forms in other official languages of the country where the feature is located; the form in the language of countries that previously controlled the feature. Do not add 451 fields with foreign language forms used in a work being cataloged if they are not pertinent to the feature.

   the English form of the name, if meaningful, if the selected name is left in the vernacular.

   abbreviated forms, if the name commonly occurs with an abbreviated term in the initial position.

   alternative forms after the decision has been reached to include or delete the initial article.

   the BGN romanized form if it differs from the LC romanized form and has been supplied as a variant by BGN.

b. Broader terms. Add up to three 550 (broader term) fields containing the generic heading for the type of feature, structure, etc., subdivided by country, etc. For features in more than three countries or first order political divisions of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, use an appropriate broader geographic name as the subdivision.

References are made for some types of entities, such as parks, archaeological sites, early cities, etc., according to pattern provisions. These patterns are described in individual instruction sheets in this manual.


c. Named groups as broader terms. Add a 551 field containing the named group to which an individual feature belongs, if appropriate, for example, an individual peak in a mountain range or an individual lake in a group of lakes, such as Great Lakes or Finger Lakes (N.Y.).


Make this reference from the smallest applicable named group. Example:

151 ## $a Black Mountains (N.C.)

551 ## $w g $a Blue Ridge Mountains

[not 551 ## $w g $a Appalachian Mountains]


Do not add a 551 field containing the name of a region in which a feature is located.


11. Model for heading and references. The above provisions may be summarized as follows:

151 ## $a [distinctive name] [generic term] ([geographic qualifier])

451 ## $a [alternate name(s)] ([geographic qualifier])

550 ## $w g $a [type of feature, structure, etc.] $z [country or first order division]

551 ## $w g $a [name of group] ([geographic qualifier)]


12. Examples.

Note: The following examples illustrate complete headings, including the proper forms of qualifiers. For rules for qualification, see H 810.


151 ## $a Margeride Mountains (France)

451 ## $a Montagnes de la Margeride (France)

551 ## $w g $a Massif Central (France)

550 ## $w g $a Mountains $z France


151 ## $a Ejón Hill (Colombia)

451 ## $a Cerrejón (Colombia)

451 ## $a El Cerrejón (Colombia)

451 ## $a Cerro Ejón (Colombia)

550 ## $w g $a Mountains $z Colombia


151 ## $a El Capitan (Calif.)

451 ## $a Capitan (Calif.)

550 ## $w g $a Mountains $z California

551 ## $w g $a Sierra Nevada (Calif. and Nev.)


151 ## $a Erzgebirge (Czech Republic and Germany)

451 ## $a Krušé hory (Czech Republic and Germany)

451 ## $a Krušnohoří (Czech Republic and Germany)

451 ## $a Ore Mountains (Czech Republic and Germany)

550 ## $w g $a Mountains $z Czech Republic

550 ## $w g $a Mountains $z Germany


151 ## $a Forth, Firth of (Scotland)

451 ## $a Bodotria (Scotland)

451 ## $a Firth of Forth (Scotland)

451 ## $a Forth Estuary (Scotland)

451 ## $a Forth, River, Estuary (Scotland)

550 ## $w g $a Estuaries $z Scotland


151 ## $a Fuji, Mount (Japan)

451 ## $a Fuji-san (Japan)

451 ## $a Fuji-yama (Japan)

451 ## $a Fujiyama (Japan)

451 ## $a Mount Fuji (Japan)

451 ## $a Suji Mountain (Japan)

550 ## $w g $a Mountains $z Japan

550 ## $w g $a Volcanoes $z Japan


151 ## $a Peipus, Lake (Estonia and Russia)

451 ## $a Chudskoe ozero (Estonia and Russia)

451 ## $a Chudskoye ozero (Estonia and Russia)

451 ## $a Lake Peipus (Estonia and Russia)

451 ## $a Peipsi järv (Estonia and Russia)

550 ## $w g $a Lakes $z Estonia

550 ## $w g $a Lakes $z Russia (Federation)


151 ## $a Rio de la Plata (Argentina and Uruguay)

451 ## $a Plate River (Argentina and Uruguay)

451 ## $a Plata, Rio de la (Argentina and Uruguay)

550 ## $w g $a Estuaries $z Argentina

550 ## $w g $a Estuaries $z Uruguay


151 ## $a Rio Grande

451 ## $a Río Bravo del Norte

550 ## $w g $a Rivers $z Mexico

550 ## $w g $a Rivers $z United States


151 ## $a Saint Gotthard Pass (Switzerland)

451 ## $a Gotthard Pass (Switzerland)

451 ## $a Pass of Saint Gotthard (Switzerland)

451 ## $a Passo del San Gottardo (Switzerland)

451 ## $a Saint Gothard Pass (Switzerland)

451 ## $a Sankt Gotthardpass (Switzerland)

451 ## $a St. Gotthard Pass (Switzerland)

550 ## $w g $a Mountain passes $z Switzerland


151 ## $a Sound, The (Denmark and Sweden)

451 ## $a Řresund (Denmark and Sweden)

451 ## $a Sundet (Denmark and Sweden)

451 ## $a The Sound (Denmark and Sweden)

550 ## $w g $a Sounds (Geomorphology) $z Denmark

550 ## $w g $a Sounds (Geomorphology) $z Sweden


151 ## $a Wye, River (Wales and England)

451 ## $a River Wye (Wales and England)

550 ## $w g $a Rivers $z England

550 ## $w g $a Rivers $z Wales


151 ## $a Yellow River (China)

451 ## $a Hoang Ho (China)

451 ## $a Huang He (China)

451 ## $a Huang Ho (China)

451 ## $a Hwang Ho (China)

550 ## $w g $a Rivers $z China