Tallinn, 7-8 May 1992


The meeting was held at the premises of the Institute of Language and Literature, Estonian Academy of Sciences. It was attended by linguists and cartographers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and an observer from Finland (see document 1 and annex 2).

7 May 1992

1. The meeting was opened by Mart Rannut, Director-General of the Estonian National Language Board. He welcomed the participants and suggested that the meeting should consecutively be chaired by a representative from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It was agreed that Henn Saari would chair the meeting on the 7th of May. The meeting on the 8th of May was chaired by Aivars Lekuzis (agenda items 7-9) and Vitalija Maciejauskienė (items 10-13). Helga Laasi was elected as the secretary of the meeting. The working languages of the meeting were English and Russian.

The agenda was adopted without changes.

2. Reports by the participants on the situation in their countries concerning the use and standardization of place names included the following.

Jurģis Kavacs gave a historical sketch about the use of names in maps (document 6). Janina Daračkaitė spoke about the problems of names in the Lithuanian cartography (document 4). Many historical names are being restored at present. Heiki Potter introduced documents 11, 12, 13, 14 and displayed examples of maps and names collection bulletins. He also told about the plans of the Estonian Land Board to compile and publish topographic maps. Aivars Lekuzis discussed the ways how to present correct names on maps (document 7). He emphasized the need for contacts with other cartographic enterprises in the world (e.g. Cartactual in Budapest).

Ojārs Bušs spoke about the collection of toponyms in Latvia and how it could be used in cartography. The problem of standardizing place names appears to be especially difficult in Latgale where the dialect is sometimes even considered as a separate language. Adaption of the toponyms to the literary language may cause conflicts with the enthusiasts of local Latgallian culture. An idea to show double names on maps has been discussed. Many parallel variants of names also exist in Kurzeme. Vitalija Maciejauskienė referred to document 17 and briefly characterized the state of names standardization in Lithuania. The Institute of the Lithuanian Language possesses a collection of over 1,000,000 name entries. Many names (those of populated places and the bodies of water) have already been standardized. These are frequently checked in various publications. Difficulties occur with microtoponyms. The problem of writing Polish place names is solved more on a political than linguistic level. Valdek Pall discussed the way how dialectal name forms should be transformed into literary language. Tradition of 50 or 100 years often prevents the use of a generally accepted principle that names should be spelled as they are locally pronounced. Greater problems are encountered in Southern Estonia. However, when more exact topographic maps are compiled, the writing of microtoponyms there will obviously be revised.

3. Review of the principles of the United Nations conferences on the standardization of geographical names and their application in Finland was given by Eeva Maria Närhi. She encouraged the delegates to actively participate in the international process of names' standardization and send their representatives to the forthcoming UN conference.

After that discussion on item 4 of the agenda was continued. Laimute Balode touched upon the question of dialectal name forms and the writing of names outside one's territory. Vita Strautniece reported on the project of collecting place names at the University of Latvia (document 15). 6 parishes out of about 500 have been investigated. Establishing the names of vanished objects on maps is also considered important. Jānis Turlajs was concerned with the names of villages and farmsteads in Latvia (document 16). There are more than 60,000 farms and 6,000 villages. Changes in the names of villages after World War II were mainly negative as these were made subjectively and without proper knowledge of Latvian. A new official list of village names is being prepared now. In general names that existed before 1940 are to be restored. Russified or germanized names should be avoided with the exeption of names of historical value. Occurrence of too frequent names and their transfer to other places pose problems. Similar problems exist also in Estonia, these were discussed by Rivo Noorkõiv, Meeri Lakson and Peeter Päll. A village name reform has been demanded and in some places (Saaremaa) already implemented without correct legal procedures. Different from Latvia, in Estonia a village constitutes the smallest official unit and all houses are included in one or another village. Names of farmsteads are recognized when individual farmsteads are established under the law, but the register of farm names is deficient in many parishes. In Latvia names of farms have always been officially registered.

4. After the meeting on the 7th of May the participants had an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the collections of place names at the Institute of Language and Literature and with the map publications of AS Regio (document 8).

8 May 1992

5. Toponymic data bases, national gazetteers and other publications of place names.

Meeri Lakson spoke about the creation of a database of cartographic names at RE Eesti Maauuringud. The timetable for gathering information is connected with that of the basic map. Systematic computerized processing of toponyms is needed. Names are taken from various sources and then compared. Ambiguous names are checked in field research and only then entered into the database. The work is hindered by inadequate understanding of the importance of names in compiling maps. Every country should have a national toponymic database. Laimute Balode told that the toponymic collections at the Institute of the Latvian Language contain about 1,500,000 entries. Much attention has been paid on linguistical aspects of names: phonetics, morphology, etc. At the same time names lack map references. Marija Razmukaitė made a brief review of the principles of place name collections in Lithuania and listed official gazetteers. The same in respect of Estonia was done by Peeter Päll.

6. Principles of writing foreign place names, transcription and romanization systems were discussed together with the problems of exonyms. Aivars Lekuzis proposed that in writing names outside the borders of one's own country official national name forms should be preferred. However, Laimute Balode stressed that due to a need to decline names and so have specific nominative endings there has been a tradition in Latvia and Lithuania to transcribe all foreign place names irrespective of their original spelling. A new administrative map of Latvia has been published according to these principles. Aivars Lekuzis suggested that, as a compromise, traditional spellings of names could be shown, where appropriate, in the second place, e.g. Pärnu (Pērnava). After a brief discussion the participants agreed that in official map publications precedence should be given to national official forms of geographical names as has been recommended by the UN conferences.

Jānis Turlajs suggested that in writing place names of territories that the Baltic countries consider as theirs according to international law each country should adhere to the name forms accepted by the other Baltic country, e.g. Jaanilinn (Estonian place name on a territory currently under Russia's jurisdiction) should also appear in Latvian maps instead of Ivangorod. Aivars Lekuzis proposed that political aspects should be excluded in these matters. The map of Latvia shows only the Latvian name of Abrene (Pitalova, Pytalovo) in the Latvian territory under Russia's jurisdiction, strictly according to the text of the decision of Latvia's Supreme Council.

The participants also dealt with the problems of romanizing Russian and Belorussian names. The implementation of the international romanization system is complicated by the fact that name forms on road signs often do not correspond to those on maps. The 1987 Montréal system for the transliteration of Russian names will closely be studied by the participants. At present there are national transcription tables in each country.

Discussing the names of countries and exonyms in general it was stated that it was a matter for each country to decide. However, in writing new names the original spelling should be adhered to as much as possible. Eeva Maria Närhi introduced document 9 on exonyms in Finnish and suggested that lists of exonyms used in one's language should be prepared. In the case of Latvia and Lithuania, nevertheless, it would be problematic because almost every foreign name used would be an exonym in the strict sense.

7. Reproduction of Baltic place names on maps issued elsewhere was discussed by Peeter Päll. Apart from maps where names are simply not presented correctly (e.g. there are a lot of bad mistakes on the map of Estonia, published in 1990 in Moscow) the most common problem appears to be that names are not taken from original official sources but from the Russian Cyrillic transcriptions as if the names were in Russian. Correction of this misconcept would inevitably be necessary right now. The participants agreed that more efforts should be made to spread reliable information on the correct writing of Baltic names.

8. Initiatives for the United Nations conference. Eeva Maria Närhi briefed the participants on the requirements and procedured of the conference. She reminded that documents should be sent to the Secretariate not later than 1 June, 1992. As an example, she referred to document 10 (toponymic guidelines - Estonia).

Discussing the participation of the Baltic states in divisional activities of the UN conferences on the standardization of geographical names, the delegates agreed that a separate Baltic Division should be formed at the UN Group of Experts on Geographical Names. A draft resolution proposed to the Sixth UN Conference was adopted by the participants (document 20). However, this does not mean that the Baltic countries would not wish to participate in certain other divisions. Estonian delegates informed that due to language affiliation with Finnish and the presence of Swedish toponyms Estonia would also seek participation in the Norden Division.

9. After some discussion the participants adopted a final resolution of the meeting, prepared by a joint group of delegates from each country (annex 3).

10. The meeting was ended at 17.00 by Mart Rannut. He hoped for further co-operation between the Baltic states and wished that meetings of this kind would continue.


  1. List of documents submitted to the meeting
  2. Corrections to the list of participants
  3. Resolution of the meeting

Helga Laasi
Secretary of the Meeting