Collection of Geographical Names
The first systematic collection of geographical names in Denmark was initiated around 1760 by the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters (Det kongelige danske Videnskabernes Selskab). From 1830 to 1845, in the region of 80,000 geographical names were collected by junior officers in the Guide Corps under the General Staff's Topographical Department, either as part of the general surveying or as special name collection campaigns.
In 1928 the collection of geographical names continued under the civilian institution Geodetics Institute (Geodætisk Institut) until 1970 when attention turned to control of name change and collection of names of new settlements, etc. Currently the place-name database, SNSOR of the Danish Geodata Agency contains some 120,000 geographical names. Of these some 25,000 names have been authorized by the Place-Name Commission, the remainder follows the principles of standardization as devised by this commission.
There are substantial Geographical names collections in the Faculty of Faroes Language and Literature (Føroyamálsdeildin), at the University of the Faroe Islands (Fróðskaparsetur Føroya). For more information, please see Føroyamálsdeildin's information page on geographical names (only in Faroese).
The collection of Finnish place names was initiated in the 1870s. The first collection plan was published by the Native Language Society in 1876, but it was not until the Finnish Antiquities Society’s collection programme was published in 1878 that the practical collection work started. The collection work led into the publication of Place names and Local Stories, compiled on the basis of data collected between 1879 and 1882 and covering over 12 000 names from nearly one hundred parishes in different parts of the country.
For a systematic collection of place names in Finland, the Place-name Commission of the Learned Societies was founded in 1915. The Name Archive of the Institute for the Languages of Finland continues its line of work today. The collections have accumulated as a result of the collection work done by collectors with linguistic education currently to cover up to 2.6 million place names. They include some 12 000 Saami place names. Most names are localized on a map. Finnish-language names have also been collected from outside of the Finnish borders, from Swedish Norrbotten and Värmland; from Norwegian Finnskogene and Finnmarken; from Ingria and Petsamo. Further, the collections contain Karelian names from Archangel and Olonets Karelia, as well as Vepsian and Estonian place names. For more information, please see the web-exhibition The Story of a Place-Name.
The collection of Swedish place names in Finland was launched by Svenska landsmålsföreningen i Finland ('the Society for Swedish Dialects in Finland') in the 1870s, and its work was later carried on by the Swedish Literature Society founded in 1885. Currently, the collections of the Swedish Literature Society contain some 400 000 place names.
Geographical names authorized by the Institute for the Languages in Finland and the Giellagas Institute are stored in a database by the National Land Survey of Finland containing some 800 000 place names.
The collection of geographical names can be traced back several hundred years, as a result of the Arctic whaling period and Arctic Exploration. The search for marine seaways to the Orient also left their tracks on Greenland’s history of exploration.
The systematic collection of geographical names in Greenland for mapping and authorization purposes started in 1934 with the establishment of Committee on Greenland Place Names under the Department of the Danish Premier. This had earlier been a ressort area under the Commission of Naval Research. Additionally, the Danish Commission on Scientific Research in Greenland had also contributed extensively by mapping several areas of interest to scientific research: geology, botany, zoology, meteorology, cryosphere, as well as catering for the navigational needs of shipping and the air traffic of the time.
After 1953 intense efforts were placed on coordinating several earlier iniatives in the area, navitagional as well as scientific. At that time several place names were changed to be exclusively Danish in form in areas where Greenlanders did not live. This process includes mapping undertaken by American and other foreign explorers.
On the initiative of the Greenland Home Rule, an agreement was negotiated a single- authorization of Greenlandic geographical names in areas in Greenland inhabited by Greenland Inuit be instroduced. This process is still in force by agreement with the Danish Geodata Agency. In practice, this means that geographical names in Greenland are registered and revised by the Greenland Place Names Authority (Nunat Aqqinik Aalajangiisartut) but added to new maps by the Danish Geodata Agency.
In the wake of the transfer of authority, a procedure for acceptance and refusal of proposals was developed and legislated upon in Greenland.The requirements for this procedure include elements of customary law in Greenland for not naming after living persons, relevance for Greenland etc. Thus, thorough scrutiny of proposals is needed before the authority can make its decisions. According to legislation, decisions of the Nunat Aqqinik Aalajangiisartut cannot be appealed.
Nunat Aqqinik Aalajangiisartut (Greenland Place Names Authority) and the Danish Geodata Agency jointly certify the authoritative lists of place names in Greenland now and for the future.
The collection of Norwegian geographical names - in particular settlement names - was initiated in 1878 when a commission for geographical names was appointed in order to establish a scholarly based standardization of farm names in the revision of the land register of 1886. This work was led by Oluf Rygh, who, in the 1890s continued to study the material and prepare it for publication, known as Norske Gaardnavne (Norwegian Farm Names) in 18 volumes (completed in 1926).
In 1921 Norsk stadnamnarkiv (the Norwegian Place-Names Archives - NPA) was founded with the aim to “systematically collect and study Norwegian place-names”. Since then the collected material has increased year by year. In 1978 the NPA was transferred to the University of Oslo. After the establishment of the universities in Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø, and also of some colleges, the collection og geographical names has been undertaken at those institutions as well. The collections of the NPA comprise about 400 000 place-names.
A large part ot the collections has been digitalized. According to the Norwegian Place-Name Act, Statens kartverk (the Norwegian Mapping Authority) is in charge of authorizing most geographical names. Excepted are address names, names of residential areas and municipal institutions which are authorized by the municipalities. Names of smallholdings are decided by the owners if they can prove its historical status. By now in excess of 100 000 geographical names have been authorized according to the law.
There are notable differences between Finland, Norway and Sweden regarding the collection of geographical names in the Saami languages.
In Finland, the collection of Saami geographical names is a responsibility of the Name Archive of the Research Institute for the Languages of Finland. The collection comprises more than 12 000 geographical names which have been collected by private persons as well as professional collectors with linguistic knowledge. Some national institutions, such as the National Land Survey of Finland and the Forest Administration have collected geographical names in the Saami languages.
As to Norway, the collection and storage of Saami geographical names has not been defined as a national responsibility, and thus there is no national archive for Saami geographical names. Sporadic collections geographical names do exist but have been collected using different methods and are archived with both private persons as well as public institutions.
The Royal Place-Name Committee (Kungl. Ortnamnskommittén) was set up in 1902. The committee was commissioned to provide for official research work on the names of villages and farms as well as of important mountains and large forests and lakes. The launching of the work The Place-Names of Sweden (Sveriges ortnamn) was of decisive importance for future progress. The Place-Name Committee chose the county of Älvsborg in south-west Sweden as its first area of investigation, and material began to be collected there. Within just four years of the launch of the project, three volumes of the sub-series The Place-Names of the County of Älvsborg (Ortnamnen i Älvsborgs län) were published, forming part of the overall series The Place-Names of Sweden.
As a part of the Committee’s work the Swedish Place-Name Archives (Svenska ortnamnsarkivet) was founded in 1928 in Uppsala with Jöran Sahlgren in charge. At first the main task of this new institution was to collect place-names, old spellings, pronunciation and information about the names, recorded on the spot. From the 1930s onwards a tremendous amount of work was done in this area. The material was to develop into the world’s most comprehensive collection of place-names.
Quite early it became evident that the majority of standardization matters that the Place-Name Committee had to deal with were those related to the official Swedish maps. The first topographical map with a total coverage of Sweden was the Ordnance Survey map, which became public in 1857. From 1904 the committee was involved in checking the names on the map sheets before they were published by the Geographical Survey Office (Rikets allmänna kartverk). In the first sheets that were studied about 50% of the names were estimated to be incorrect in some way!
The systematic collection of material related to place-names was intensified towards the end of the 1930s, when the field work for the “modern” property map (land use map/economic map) began. The majority of place-names which are used on the national maps of Sweden were collected in the field in the course of cartographic work by field surveyors, running parallel to that of university students, the latter specializing in Nordic languages and concentrating on recording the correct pronunciation of the names.
The Institute for Language and Folklore is a Swedish government agency with a focus on dialects, language policy, language planning, names and folklore. The Institute’s collections, which document major components of Sweden’s intangible cultural heritage, are open to members of the public, students and researchers. The Institute has five offices in Sweden, with the head office in Uppsala where today’s Institute of Name Research (Namnarkivet i Uppsala) is the successor of the Swedish Place-Name Archives. As far as place-names are concerned the Institute for Language and Folklore is the successor to the Place-Name Committee (and later “Commission”). The Institute for Language and Folklore is computerizing the material in its care. Almost four million index cards have been scanned and are accessible on the Internet, opening the way for future research.
In addition, the National Land Survey's (the successor of the Geographical Survey Office, Lantmäteriet) place-name database will function as a national place-name “dictionary”. To meet the demand for access to place-name information there is an Internet service called Map Search and Place-Names, which will give authorities, organisations and the general public easy access to the officially approved place-names. There are more than one million place-names on the sheets of the Swedish national map series and in the national place-name database. This place-name database also contains names in the minority languages Finnish, Meänkieli and Saami, written in their official orthography.