Guidelines for naming geographical places

Follow these guidelines and naming principles when selecting a name for a place.

What is a place

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    Selecting a name

    The name should relate to either:

    • the European or Indigenous history or heritage
    • the topography or physical attributes.

    Make sure Indigenous words:

    • represent the vocabulary of the original inhabitants of the area
    • are appropriate for the intended use.

    Names should not be duplicated or sound similar to other names in Australia.

    Places names after living people are not generally accepted.

    Naming principles

    Apply these principles to your proposal:

    • Acronyms are not accepted.
    • Don't use variants of a name for individual features within a group – for example, a proposal to name a number of lakes on the Tallaringa 1:250,000 mapsheet using different spellings of an Indigenous tribe as Kokata, Kotit ta, Gogada or Cocatah was refused.
    • Use the correct spelling if the name is from a person or another place.
    • 'River' should be used as a generic term following name – for example, Onkaparinga River except when referring to the River Torrens or River Murray.
    • Using descriptive names is discouraged – for example, Salt Creek, Gum Creek.
    • Names already recorded in the State Gazetteer are discouraged – however if they are widely used in the area they could be recorded as geographical names.
    • WIth the exception of mountain ranges, a single feature within a group of features should not be used as the name of the group as it can be confusing for emergency services – for example, Coongi Lakes is sometimes used to cover a large group of lakes in the north east of the state (Coongi Lake is one of these lakes).
    • Naming a mountain range after a single mountain is acceptable because the feature is usually singular, and the name is taken from the most significant part of the range – for example, Mount Lock and Mount Lock Range.

    Possessive nouns

    Using the possessive ‘s’ is discouraged because the geographical feature is not owned by the person it is named after. Where a previously recorded name has a possessive 's', the following applies:

    • The apostrophe is deleted.
    • The 's' can be retained if:
      • the 's' could indicate a plural – for example, Blackfellows Cave
      • the 's' could be part of the name – for example, Jacobs Creek
      • removing the 's' could suggest a different source of the name – for example, Browns Hill if altered to Brown Hill could suggest it was named after the colour rather than a person named Brown
      • a feature has been named because it is similar or connected with mythology or legend - for example, Aladdins Cave, The Devils Elbow, The Dutchmans Stern, Hawks Nest
      • removing the 's' would affect the sound of the name - for example, Malcolms Barossa Mine
      • the name of pastoral properties is recorded on official documents.

    Indigenous naming principles

    Indigenous communities must be consulted and agree when choosing Indigenous place names.

    If a natural feature already has a non-Indigenous name and an Indigenous name is also to be applied to that same feature, a dual name is assigned to it so that both heritages are recorded.

    In practice, dual geographical names are assigned only to natural geographical and topographical features that have a traditional Indigenous and another name – for example, Mount McKinlay is also known by its Indigenous name Wayanha.

    Priority is given to traditional Indigenous names when assigning or recording a name to a previously unrecorded natural feature.

    Every effort is made to determine if an Indigenous name exists for a previously unrecorded natural feature. If it an unrecorded European name is used locally, a dual name will be assigned or recorded.

    Features found to have an assigned or recorded European name but not an Indigenous name, will be considered for dual naming.

    Documents for download

    Visit Roads and place names on the  Department for Trade and Investment's website for more detail and printable documents to help you name geographical places.

    Spelling of Indigenous names

    Where an accepted orthography for the language exists

    If a writing system has existed for a number of years, any previously unrecorded name will be recorded using that writing system - for example, as with the Pitjantjatjara language. If more than one language group has named a feature, all alternative names will be recorded.

    The name to be used in the public domain will be from the language group where the feature is physically located if the relevant Indigenous community agrees.

    Where an accepted orthography for the language does not exist

    A linguist or anthropologist acceptable to the Indigenous community should establish a practical orthography if none exists. This is to make sure the way the name is pronounced will accurately carry over into written words using Roman characters.

    Recording names with a more accurate spelling

    Before changing the spelling of a name, consider:

    • the views of the Indigenous community
    • the extent it will change
    • the likely effect of the name change
    • the best way to alter the name in a non-threatening manner.

    Use of Indigenous names

    Traditional Indigenous place names are encouraged but must be authorised by the relevant Indigenous communities.

    A word from an Indigenous language is also acceptable as long as it comes from a local language and its translation is suitable.

    The meaning behind the Indigenous word must be related to the local area in which it is being used.

    Names of sensitive Indigenous historical sites will not be recorded on publicly available information.

    Placement on maps

    Both parts of the dual name should be shown in official documents and signage. The name most commonly used by the local community should be shown first:

    • River Torrens / Karrawirra Parri is the form used for this feature as River Torrens is the more commonly used name.
    • Ngaratjuranya / Mount Woodroffe is shown in that manner as Ngaratjuranya is the name used more often locally.

    Naming schools

    Requests to name new schools or change the name of a school must be endorsed by the Minister for Education or their delegate.

    Selecting a school name

    Adopting the name of the suburb, township or location of the school is the preferred approach when selecting a name.

    Alternatives that can also be considered are:

    • those established in the guidelines for selecting a name for a place
    • names of places with historical connection to the area serviced by the school – for example, early homestead names, unless there is conflict with an existing locality or suburb name
    • the name of the road where the school is located.

    Altering a school name

    To alter the name of a school you must:

    • get the support of the education department and the school council
    • choose a name that conforms to the guidelines for selecting a school name.

    Altering boundaries and names of suburbs and localities

    The names assigned to suburbs and localities form part of the official property address.

    Using assigned suburb and locality names is important for emergency services  – for example, ambulance, fire, police and the delivery of post.

    Suburb and locality boundaries can be altered if existing boundaries can be shown to hinder services to an area. This often follows land development or new arterial roads such as the Southern Expressway.

    Requests to alter suburb and locality names and boundaries can come from members of the public, local council or government departments.

    There must be a significant benefit to the general community before a change will be considered. This is due to the cost and potential disruption to services. Submissions must be made in writing to the Surveyor General and submitted to the Geographical names unit.

    Submissions are assessed by considering:

    • the views of police, emergency service providers and Australia Post
    • difficulties the community has in accessing the area
    • the costs associated with the change
    • the impact on local businesses
    • the level of support from residents and council
    • the benefits to the community as a whole
    • the size of the area and the proposed boundaries
    • if a new name is proposed, the name and its links with the area

    Submissions for reasons of perceived status or financial benefit will not be supported.

    If the proposal is considered to have merit, the Surveyor-General will commence a formal process under the Geographical Names Act 1991. See Section 11B of the Geographical Names Act 1991 for more information.

    Names not covered by the Act

    Local government is responsible for naming local government authorities and wards, council reserves and public roads.

    • The Commissioner for Highways is responsible for naming highways.
    • The Railways Commissioner is responsible for naming rail related infrastructure.
    • The electoral commission is responsible for naming electoral districts.

    Contact us


    Related information

    On this site

    Naming places
    Propose a place name
    Naming roads

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    Page last updated 29 August 2022

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