THE VALUE OF A NAME
by John Tuteur
While the public usually comes to us looking for information, we often learn something from the questions asked. In fact, whenever an issue comes up that we cannot fully answer, I always ask the person to let me know the final outcome. When someone asked about assigning a name to a geographic feature (a stream) within Napa County, I needed to do some research to provide an answer.
I knew that the municipalities or the county assigned street and public road names within their respective boundaries. The municipalities or the county also assigns addresses for specific properties.
I suggested that geographic names were probably the responsibility of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a branch of the United States Department of the Interior that produces most maps of the United States. The actual agency that assigns or changes names on these maps is the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN), a unit of the USGS. The BGN comprises representatives from Federal agencies and is authorized to establish and maintain uniform geographic name usage. Although established to serve the Federal Government as a central authority to which all name issues can be directed, the Board also plays a similar role for the general public.
I visited the BGN website on the Internet at http://geonames.usgs.gov/bgn.html. The website has a number of interesting features including the ability to propose a new geographic name or to change an existing name. Even more interesting is the ability to search more than two million geographic names and then display the map showing the named feature.
The Napa County Historical Society at 1219 1st Street in Napa has published an index of the geographic names shown on the topographic maps that cover Napa County. The index tells in which Township, Range and Section the place name occurs. That index can be obtained from the Historical Society at http://www.napahistory.org/