NGS Style Manual‎ > ‎- P -‎ > ‎


Follow National Geographic Atlas of the World, then the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, whose database for U.S. and Antarctic place-names can be found at the USGS Geographic Names Information System and for non-U.S. names at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). See also individual entries in this manual.

National Geographic political maps use the official national spelling for place-names, with historical or conventional names in parentheses:
            Roma (Rome), Mumbai (Bombay), Donau (Danube).

Physical maps generally carry just the conventional place-name. When a place-name is disputed or there are variants, National Geographic does not arbitrate but follows a long-standing policy of reflecting the current de facto political reality. The primary name used is that of the controlling government with variants in parentheses:
            Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas).

When a name is jointly controlled by more than one country or is in international waters, the conventional name is given first with variants in parentheses:
            Mount Everest (Sagarmatha, Qomolangma), Sea of Japan (East Sea)

For hyphens with compound place-names, follow the style used in the NGS atlas; if the place-name is not in the atlas, omit hyphens on both page maps and in text except in French and French-Canadian names:
            Stow on the Wold, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Trois-Rivières.

1. Abbreviations: Spell out place-names in text and legends with few exceptions, such as D.C., U.S., and U.S.S.R. Spell out United States on its first appearance if possible. Saint is generally abbreviated St. or Ste., but Fort and Mount are spelled out. Avenue and Street are spelled out in text but may be abbreviated (Ave. and St.) on page maps or in map notes. Numbered avenues and streets through Ninth are spelled out.

2. Capitalization: Capitalize a geographic element such as Bay, Street, Range, or Valley that is part of a place-name. Do not capitalize when it appears separately or in inverted order or when it is not part of the proper name: Massachusetts Avenue, the avenue; the Rocky Mountains, the mountains; Sahara desert (though preferable to use just Sahara); Tangier Island, the island of Tangier; Valley of Mexico, the Nile Valley, the valley of the Nile; Sierra Nevada mountains (though preferable to use just Sierra Nevada). Exceptions: English Channel, the Channel; European continent, the Continent (for Europe only); Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf; Thames River or River Thames. (See Foreign Terms, below, for Capitalization of Foreign Place-Names.)

Capitalize the article the in a very few place-names: The Dalles, The Hague. Do not capitalize the in the following examples: the Florida Keys, the Keys; McMurdo Dry Valleys, the Dry Valleys; the Bay Area.

3. Foreign Terms: Place-names from foreign languages appear in roman; retain diacritical marks if original is from a Latin alphabet except in commonly anglicized names: Montreal, Quebec, Istanbul. If transliterated from a non-Latin alphabet, diacritical marks are generally not used except on atlas and supplement maps. Place-names from Arabic or Cyrillic follow the common anglicized spellings.


Capitalization of Foreign Place-Names: When a geographic term is part of the name, lowercase the geographic term. For example, Tian Shan means "Heavenly Mountains," so lowercase "range" in: Tian Shan range.

4. Translations: The translation, like the original, is roman. If a translation is itself used as the place-name in subsequent references, use initial caps and no quotation marks. Otherwise, lowercase and place the translation within quotation marks.
The Rio Chico (Little River) lay before us. We traveled up the Little River. . . .
Paddan Aram, or "field of Aram," bustled. . . .
Mahn-a-wau-kie, meaning "gathering place by the rivers."
Halab Shahba—"to milk the white cow"—was nearby.

5. Plurals: When two or more place-names share a common element, the common element is capped: the Thames and Avon Rivers. When two or more places have the same name, form the plural with s or es: the two Germanys.

6. Verb agreement: If a place-name is plural in form but is considered as a single unit, use a singular verb: The United States is my home; the Netherlands was represented; the Golan Heights was taken by Israel in the Six Day War. Use a plural verb if the place-name is considered as having multiple units: the Rockies are good for climbing; the Hawaiian Islands attract many tourists.