The IGU has for some years now been invited to send a representative to the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) sessions.  As in the past, IGU was represented this year by Professor Cosimo Palagiano, joint chair of the IGU-ICA Joint Commission on Toponymy.  During this session, Helen Kerfoot was given the news that she is the recipient of one of the prestigious IGU Laureat d’Honneur awards (see announcement at:

You can read Professor Palagiano’s full report below…


Cosimo Palagiano
IGU Chair of the Commission on Toponymy (Jointly with ICA)

Report on the 2nd UNGEGN Session

The 2nd UNGEGN Session (United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names) took place from 3 to 7 May 2021 in virtual conference from New York.

The date unfortunately coincided with the Ramadan. This completely fortuitous coincidence of date could not overcome in time with another date. For this reason, some Muslim delegates spoke only in voce and not in image.  The reports presented and much discussed by the delegates of the following 24 linguistic-geographical Divisions,

1.Africa Central Division, 2. Africa East Division, 3. Africa South Division, 4. Arabic Division, 5. Asia East Division, 6. Asia East Division, 7. Asia South-East Division, 8. Asia South West Division, 9. Baltic Division, 10. Celtic Division, 11. China Division, 12, Dutch-and German-speaking Division, 13, East Central and South-East Division, 14, Eastern Europe, Northern and Central Asia Division, 15, East Mediterranean Division (other than Arabic), 16. French-speaking Division, 17 India Division, 18, Latin America Division, 19, Northern Division, 20, Pacific South-West Division, 21, Portuguese-speaking Division, 22, Romano-Hellenic Division, 23, United Kingdom Division, 24, USA/Canada Division.
Since in many cases languages and state sovereignties do not coincide, the definition of division may be subject to revision.

22 entities have been invited to participate in the Session as observers, including the IGU, although Pierre Jaillard, UNGEGN President and Michael Meadows IGU President have agreed to create a liaison between the two entities. But as an IGU delegate I was only able to attend the major meeting as a viewer.

The conference took place within the framework of the recently approved 2021-2029 Strategic Plan which is focused on 5 strategies, Technical Expertise, Relationships, links and connections, Effective work programs, Culture, heritage and language recognition, Promotion and capacity building.
The situation in the countries and the progress made in the national and international standardization of geographical names are the major tasks of the UNGEGN. The task is made difficult by linguistic differences, by the Romanization of different alphabets and pronunciation and by political impediments. The case of the Japan sea is typical, a denomination that is much contested by Korea.

The working groups are working to achieve the desired results.

The Economic Commission for Africa and Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information presented their excellent results. Other discussions addressed were, (i) the social and economic benefits, supporting sustainable development, measures taken and proposed for implementation of resolutions and evaluation of the work of the Group of Experts, (ii) issues of publicity for the Group of Experts and funding of Group projects, (iii) activities on the standardization of geographical names in Africa.

A working group, led by Ferjan Ormeling, deals with Toponymic education, which is practiced in some countries.

Toponymic terminology has been extensively discussed.

Geographical names are also studied from the point of view of cultural identity of minority and indigenous groups, of regional languages and multilingual issues.

Kohei Watanabe led the works and discussions on exonyms, which present a problem of hard solution, also for the difficulty of distinguishing real exonyms from apparent ones, due to differences in languages.
The Group of Experts is editing the toponymic files and gazetteers, and the writing system and pronunciation.
During the main session, Helen Kerfoot was announced about the awarding of the Laureat d’Honneur price received by the IGU. Peter Jordan, also in my name, congratulated the illustrious scholar, who declared herself happy with this prestigious award, both publicly and by private correspondence addressed to me.
In conclusion of the meeting the Arrangements for the 2023 Session of UNGEGN were discussed.
Some specific meetings were held duting the conference, such as the side event on the UNGEGN Draft Strategic Plan and Program of Work 2021-2029, the business meeting on the exonyms coordinated by Kohei Watanabe, the business meeting on the heritage coordinated by Annette Torensjö, and the business meeting of the Joint Commission on Toponymy coordinate by Peter Jordan.

Peter Jordan presented the publications of 2020 and 2021, as the Proceedings of symposia held in Clarens and Vienna in 2019, the Preview on events organized or co-organized by Commission in 2021 and 2022, the organizational matters for the chair and steering board of the Commission after 2023 and 2024. Peter Jordan expires as ICA Chair in 2023 and Palagiano as IGU Chair in 2024. Palagiano has proposed that the term of Peter Jordan be extended until 2024, in order not to create inequalities in the Commission itself.
For the Chair succession after 2024, the names of Joan Tort-Donada, Andrea Cantile and Theodorus du Plessis have been proposed.

Helen Kerfoot gladly accepted to be included in the Steering Committee after 2024.
Among the proposals presented, Helen has indicated some topics, including the unknown place names (terrae incognitae).

For my part, I presented the following topic on Literary, polar and extraterritorial place names.
The first indicated location was that of the Società Geografica Italiana , of which I have been appointed honorary member, but, for logistical reasons I preferred to contact the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, of which I am a corresponding member.