Manitoba Geographical Names Program

Geographical names are an integral part of everyday life, essential to our scientific, commercial, and economic world. They provide an easy-to-recognize and authoritative reference to places, locations, and geographical features. Official geographical names are an important element of the infrastructure of society, and are used in many aspects of day-to-day work and communications, from public health and weather reporting, to environmental monitoring and emergency response, navigation, commerce and travel planning.

Toponyms (geographical names) provide a geographical reference system. Consistency and accuracy are indispensable in referring to a place and are essential to our personal, scientific, commercial, and economic world.  While geographical names are a vital element of mapping, their significance goes far beyond the geospatial realm. The geographical names that people use to identify settlements and nearby natural features are deeply valued and important to a region and to local residents’ identity, heritage, and culture. Geographical names tell us as much about who we are as they do about where we are.

About the Manitoba Geographical Names Program

In Manitoba, the authority for officially naming geographical features has been delegated to Manitoba's Provincial Toponymist as Manitoba’s member on the Geographical Names Board of Canada and the position responsible for the Manitoba Geographical Names Program.

Place names provide the most useful geographical reference system in the world. The study of such names is called "toponymy" from the Greek words 'topos' (place) and 'onoma' (name) and the person leading this work is known as a Toponymist.

The Manitoba Geographical Names Program’s mission is to: “embrace the active preservation of the province’s culture through its toponymy, and provides the naming authority for the enhancement, maintenance, dissemination, and protection of Manitoba’s geographical nomenclature recognizing the integral role geographical names play in our daily lives including their essential value to our scientific, commercial, and economic world.”

The objectives of the program are:

  • to ensure the application of uniform standards and principles to geographical naming throughout the province
  • to conduct research and consultations on proposed and established names
  • to provide an information centre on nomenclature for our provincial, national, and international clients.

Manitoba maintains a provincial data set containing more than 25, 000 active and heritage place names found throughout the province. For each place name, the data contains geographic coordinates, the type of feature (lake, island, bay, etc.), the name’s approval data, plus any cultural and heritage information recorded about the name. This authoritative data is available, at no cost, to all of our clients.

In addition to the maintenance and use of provincial data, Manitoba also ensures its data is uploaded to the Canadian Geographical Names Database to further ensure access to all provincial decisions.

Our Shared Heritage and Culture

Visualize each geographical name as the title of a story revealing some aspect of Manitoba's cultural or natural heritage.

Throughout the province runs a thread of names honouring and recognizing Manitoba’s Indigenous Culture and Heritage.  From Pisew Falls, Sipiwesk Lake, and Enatik Lake in the north to Kakwusik Lake and Sewap Lake in central Manitoba to Kookooko'oosagasawining, Neepawa, Falcons Bow Lake, and Winnipeg in the south.

The fur trade is remembered in such names as Portage la Prairie, Fort Garry, Norway House, and York Factory.

The cultural mosaic is further illustrated by the names Blumenort, Gimli, Ile des Chênes, Scandinavia, Selkirk, Shamattawa, and Zhoda.

Among our official names are many that suggest a physical characteristic of the landscape, such as Sickle Lake, Eight Foot Falls, Long Point, and Hollowrock Island.

The names of many communities established during the late 1800s can be traced to their post offices or railway stations. These service centres were named for postmasters (Holland - A.O. Holland), homesteaders (Morden - Alvey Morden) and Prime Ministers (Laurier - Sir Wilfred Laurier). They were also named for local features (Oak Bluff) or hometowns (Petersfield from Petersfield, England). Some were named at the whim of railway officials during construction of main and branch lines. For example, the Canadian National Railway stations westward from Portage Ia Prairie were named in alphabetical order starting with Arona, Bloom, and Caye, ending at Zeneta, Saskatchewan, where the cycle began again with Atwater.

Principles and Procedures for Geographical Naming

The need for a Canadian names authority was recognized in the late 1800s, when resource mapping beyond the frontiers of settlement and extensive immigration made it an urgent matter to manage the country’s geographical names – to standardize their spelling and their application to particular features.

In Manitoba, the Minister of Economic Development, Investment, Trade and Natural Resources is responsible for geographical naming and has delegated the Provincial Toponymist to be the provincial member on the Geographical Names Board of Canada and to administer the Manitoba Geographical Names Program.

Principles and Procedures

Manitoba adheres to the guiding principles and procedures established by the Geographical Names Board of Canada. For proposals or name changes, each name is checked and verified as to its spelling, geographical coordinates, and compliance with the following principles:

In summary, the guiding principles are:

  1. Names created by legislation are accepted.
  2. Priority is given to names well established in local use.
  3. Names used by postal, transportation and major utilities are accepted, if in keeping with other principles.
  4. Specific limits of features must be recorded. Use of the same generic for part of a named feature as for the whole feature should be avoided.
  5. Personal names are not accepted, unless exceptional circumstances exist.
  6. Preferred sources of new names (i.e. where no local names are in use) are appropriate descriptive words, names of pioneers, explorers and historical events connected with the area, names from Indigenous languages identified with the general area, and names of persons who died during war service.
  7. Names should be euphonious and in good taste.
  8. A name is usually approved in a single language form in the Roman alphabet. Other forms may be sanctioned by the appropriate names authority. Names from languages other than English or French should be written in the best recognized orthography. Names for some selected features of pan-Canadian significance are recognized in both English and French for use on federal maps and texts.
  9. The spelling and accenting of names follow the rules of the language in which they are written.
  10. Names of service facilities (e.g. post offices) in a community should conform with the official name of the community. Names with the same specific applied to associated features should agree in form and spelling.
  11. Duplication of names should be avoided if confusion may result.
  12. The generic term should be appropriate to the nature of the feature. It is recorded in either English or French by the names authority concerned.
  13. Qualifying words (e.g. "upper", "west branch", "nouveau") may be used to distinguish two or more features with identical specific forms.
  14. The adoption of a name of a minor feature is guided by the relative significance of the feature, familiarity with the name, and the scale of mapping available.
Proposing a Name / Name Change

With an understanding of the guiding principles, individuals or organizations may propose a new name or name change for a specific geographical feature. Serious consideration will be given to proposals accompanied by a well-documented justification.

Name or name change proposals should include:

  • meaning or significance of the proposed name or name change
  • identification of feature on a map or sketch
  • geographical coordinates of the feature, such as longitude and latitude or UTM
  • discussion of research undertaken and findings
  • letters of support for the proposal and contact information
  • engagement with affected groups, Indigenous communities, local governments, regional organizations

Comprehensive research and engagement is required to confirm local support for the name, determine whether other local names exist, of if there are any concerns or objections. If the name meets the established criteria and no objections exist, it is included on a Geographical Names Board of Canada decision list and duly signed by Manitoba’s Provincial Toponymist. The name is then entered in the provincial and national toponymic databases and added to toponymic records. The name then becomes available provincially, nationally, and internationally.

How Can I Help?

Reliable and documented information concerning corrections in the use, spelling, or application of geographical names on maps and signs, and in other publications is welcomed.

You can help by becoming more aware of the names you use each day. Your knowledge of their significance will encourage you to share the cultural and heritage information of these names.

  • if you have concerns regarding the spelling or application of a name on a map or sign;
  • if you have name origin data to supplement our records;
  • if you discover that an unofficial name is being perpetuated on maps and signs or in reports and other documents;
  • if you are researching a geographical name for use in an Order in Council, on a licence, permit or regulation, or for any other reason; or
  • if you require additional information about a name,

Please contact Manitoba’s Provincial Toponymist to discuss your concerns.

Manitoba’s Indigenous Place Names Project

The objective of the Manitoba Indigenous Names Project is to record and approve the many traditional Indigenous toponyms (geographical names) in Manitoba that have not been recorded previously.

Manitoba’s inventory of traditional Indigenous toponyms (as of June 2015), numbered slightly more than 2,500, the majority of which are located in central and northern Manitoba.  In view of the historical and modern footprint of Indigenous settlement, travel, and trade in Manitoba, the number of official Indigenous toponyms must be enhanced to better represent and respect the cultural and historical influence of Manitoba’s Indigenous peoples.

Traditional names submitted to the Manitoba Geographical Names Program will be approved as official names and included in the Manitoba and Canadian Geographical Names Databases.  This ensures these traditional names will be recognized provincially, nationally, and internationally and become available to cartographers, mapping organizations, the public, and any other interested individuals or organizations for recognition and inclusion on all products that reference geographical locations.

If you are aware of Indigenous names that are not currently on the map of Manitoba, please contact the Manitoba Geographical Names Program to learn how to submit a name(s).

Commemorative Names Program

After the end of the Second World War, the Geographic Board of Canada — now known as the Geographical Names Board of Canada — established a policy to use the names of decorated casualties to identify unnamed features required for mapping and resource development.  The resumption of peace-time mapping programs by the federal government, as well as requirements for larger scaled provincial maps, resulted in the depletion of the decorated casualty list of names.  In 1955, the Board adopted a policy to use all Second World War casualty names, whether they were decorated or not.

Manitoba completed the naming of geographical features in honour of its World War II Fatal Casualties in 1995.  In 1998, Manitoba became the first province to also honour its Korean War Fatal Casualties.  The majority of names were applied in northern Manitoba where vital resource mapping was required.

Manitoba has named many geographical features (i.e. lakes, rivers, bays, peninsulas) in honour of  7575 World War I (including 7 Victoria Cross Recipients who survived World War I), 4,206 Second World War (including Merchant Mariners), 37 Korean War, 1 U.N. Peacekeeping, 7 Afghanistan fatal casualties, and all of Manitoba’s 15 Victoria Cross Recipients (including the 7 noted WWI Recipients).  This is a fitting memorial for our society to recognize the contributions these brave Canadians made so we can live in peace.

An 11" x 15" Commemorative Name Certificate is available, upon request, to next of kin as tangible evidence of the official naming of a feature after their loved one. Certificates are available at a nominal charge.

To confirm whether a family member has had a geographical feature named commemoratively in their honour or to order a commemorative name certificate, please contact the Manitoba Geographical Names Program