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geographical names: types and composition

Official geographical names (or toponyms) are those approved by a provincial, territorial or federal toponymic authority. They are generally listed in the Gazetteer of Canada, which is produced by the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names. Two kinds of geographical names are distinguished: names of inhabited places and names of geographical features.

Names of inhabited places

Only two municipalities in Canada have two official forms of their names, one in English and one in French: Grand Falls and Caissie Cape in New Brunswick, which are also known officially as Grand-Sault and Cap-des-Caissie. All other municipalities have only one authorized form: thus Montréal and Québec (the city) retain their accents in English.

Names of geographical features

In Canada most geographical features have only one official name, except for the 81 names of pan-Canadian significance that have official forms in both English and French. Some provinces (Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick) also recognize "alternate names" for well-known geographical features under their jurisdiction (see GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES: TRANSLATIONS)

Generic and specific

As a general rule, the name of a geographical feature is composed of a generic and a specific. The specific is the part of the toponym that identifies the particular geographical feature in question. For example:

  • In Alexandria River, the specific is Alexandria.
  • In Crown Prince Frederik Island, the specific is Crown Prince Frederik.
  • In River of Ponds Lake, the specific is River of Ponds.

The generic is the part of the toponym that identifies a general class to which a specific geographical feature belongs. For example:

  • In Swampy Bay River, the generic is River.
  • In Bay d’Espoir, the generic is Bay.
  • In Little Francis Lake the generic is Lake.