Geographical names guidelines

What constitutes a place?

The Geographical Names Act 1991 governs the naming of places in South Australia. It defines a place as any:

  • area
  • region
  • locality
  • city
  • suburb
  • town
  • township or settlement
  • geographical or topographical feature.

It includes any:

  • railway station
  • hospital
  • school
  • other place or building that is, or is likely to be, of public or historical interest.

Selecting a name for a place

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

The name should relate to either:

  • the European or Aboriginal history or heritage of the locality or place
  • the topography or physical attributes of the locality or place.

If Aboriginal words are used make sure:

  • the words are representative of the vocabulary of the original inhabitants of the area
  • the meaning of the word is appropriate for the intended use.

Avoid duplication of a name or similar sounding names within Australia.

Naming places after living people is not generally acceptable.

Naming principles

The following principles should be applied to a name proposal:

  • acronyms are not accepted
  • don't use variants of one name for individual features within a group - eg a proposal to name a number of lakes on the Tallaringa 1:250,000 mapsheet using the various spellings of an Aboriginal tribe as Kokata, Kotit ta, Gogada or Cocatah was refused
  • use the correct spelling if the name is derived from the name of a person or another place
  • 'river' should be used as a generic term following the specific name of the feature - eg Onkaparinga River except when referring to the River Torrens or River Murray
  • the use of descriptive names is discouraged - eg Salt Creek, Gum Creek
  • names already recorded in the State Gazetteer are discouraged - however if they are widely used in the area they may be recorded or assigned as geographical names
  • with the exception of naming mountain ranges, the name of a single feature within a group of features should not be used as the name of the group because this has potential for confusion in communication, particularly for emergency services – eg the name Coongi Lakes is occasionally used to cover a large group of unrelated lakes in the north east of the state (Coongi Lake is one of the lakes in this area, many of which have names of their own)
  • the convention of naming a mountain range after a single mountain is well accepted because the feature is usually singular and the name of the range taken from the highest or most significant part of the range - eg Mount Lock and Mount Lock Range.

Possessive nouns

As a geographical feature is not owned by the person after whom it is named, the use of the possessive 's' is discouraged. Where a previously recorded place name has a possessive 's', the following criteria apply:

  • in all cases the apostrophe is to be deleted.
  • the 's' may be retained in the following instances:
    • where there is any possibility that the 's' is an indication of the plural - eg Blackfellows Cave
    • where there is any possibility that the 's' is part of the name - eg Jacobs Creek
    • where the removal of the 's' could indicate a different source of the name - eg Browns Hill if altered to Brown Hill could give the impression that it was named after the colour rather than a person named Brown
    • where a feature has been named because of similarity or connection with a mythological, legendary or real person or place - eg Aladdins Cave, The Devils Elbow, The Dutchmans Stern, Hawks Nest
    • where removal of the 's' would affect the sound of the name - eg Malcolms Barossa Mine
    • for pastoral properties where the name is recorded on official documents.

Recording and using indigenous place names

It is essential to consult with the Aboriginal community and obtain its agreement when determining indigenous place names.

In order to retain and record both the Aboriginal and European nomenclature heritage of South Australia, the Geographical Names Act 1991 provides for a dual geographical name to be assigned to a place. In practice, dual geographical names will be assigned to geographical and topographical features that have a traditional Aboriginal and another name - eg the feature known as Mount McKinlay is also known by its Aboriginal name Wayanha. When assigning or recording a name to a previously unrecorded natural feature, priority will be given to assigning or recording the traditional Aboriginal name for that feature. When assigning or recording a name to a previously unrecorded natural feature that has an unrecorded European name in local usage, every effort will be made to determine if an Aboriginal name exists for that feature and a dual name will be assigned or recorded. If a feature with an assigned or recorded European name is found to have an unrecorded Aboriginal name, the feature will be dual named.

Spelling of Aboriginal place names

The following guidelines are used in determining the correct spelling.

Newly recorded 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 in the form dictated by that established writing system - eg as with the Pitjantjatjara language. Where more than one language group has named a feature, all alternative names will be recorded in the appropriate form. Subject to approval from the relevant Aboriginal community, the name to be used in the public domain will be the name from the language group within which the feature is physically located.

Newly recorded names where no accepted orthography for the language exists

To achieve the most accurate pronunciation of the name from the written form using standard Roman characters, a linguist or anthropologist acceptable to the Aboriginal community should establish a practical orthography.

Previously recorded names where more accurate spellings are recorded

In deciding whether to change the spelling of a name these points are considered:

  • the views of the Aboriginal community
  • the extent of the alteration required
  • the likely effect of the name change
  • the best method to alter the name in a non-threatening manner.

Use of Aboriginal names

Using traditional Aboriginal place names is encouraged but must be authorised by the relevant Aboriginal communities.

Using a word from an Aboriginal language as a place name is also acceptable as long as it is derived from a local language and its translation is suitable.

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

Placement on maps

Where possible, 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 names of existing schools must be endorsed by the Minister for Education or their delegate.

Selecting a school name

When selecting a name for a new school the preference is to adopt the name of the suburb, township or locality where the school is located.

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 - eg early homestead names, unless there is conflict with an existing locality or suburb name
  • the name of the road on which the school is located.

Altering the name of a school

To alter the name of an existing school you must:

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

Altering boundaries and names of suburbs and localities

The names assigned to suburbs and localities in South Australia form part of the official property address and are used widely by businesses and the community.

Using assigned suburb and locality names is important for the effective provision of emergency services - eg ambulance, fire, police and the delivery of post and other services.

Alterations to suburb and locality boundaries occur when the existing boundaries impede the efficient delivery of services to an area. This often follows land development or the construction of new arterial roads such as the Southern Expressway.

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

Changing address information incurs a cost to businesses and the community and can disrupt the delivery of services. As a consequence there must be a significant benefit to the general community before a change will be considered.Submissions to change names and boundaries must be made in writing to the Surveyor General and submitted to the Geographical names unit. They are assessed by the Surveyor-General's Office.

Submissions are assessed by considering:

  • the views of police, emergency service providers and Australia Post
  • difficulties by the community in access to and from the area
  • the costs associated with the change
  • the impact on local businesses
  • the level of support from residents and council
  • the benefits of the proposal 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 seeking changes 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. More information about the process to assign geographical names to a place or changing the boundaries is detailed in

Section 11B of the Geographical Names Act 1991.

Names not covered by the Geographical Names Act 1991

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 electoral commission is responsible for naming electoral districts.

Related information

On this site

Place names search
Place name proposals
Road naming

Was this page useful?

Page last updated 18 August 2020

Provided by:
Attorney-General's Department
Last Updated:
Printed on:
Copyright statement:
SA.GOV.AU is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Licence. © Copyright 2022