Public Services and Procurement Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Important notice

Writing Tips has been archived and won’t be updated before it is permanently deleted.

For the most up-to-date content, please consult Writing Tips Plus, which combines content from Writing Tips and The Canadian Style. And don’t forget to update your bookmarks!

To begin your search, go to the alphabetical index below and click on the first letter of the word you are searching for.

geographical names: Treasury Board policy

In a bilingual country such as Canada, questions arise as to the designations to be used in official documents for cities, towns, villages, lakes, rivers, mountains and other geographical entities and features that may have different but well-established designations in the two official languages or may be known by one name in one region and a different one elsewhere.


On November 23, 1983, the Treasury Board issued its Circular No. 1983-58 to implement the policy adopted by the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (CPCGN) regarding the linguistic treatment of geographical names on federal maps and in federal documents.

The Treasury Board also designated the Translation Bureau as the organization responsible for determining what, in running text, should be the proper form of the names of geographical features in the other language.

In 1989 a committee made up of Translation Bureau and CPCGN representatives was assigned the task of examining the various problems encountered in translating official English names of Canadian geographical features into French and devising solutions. The committee produced the "General Rules for Translating and Writing the Names of Canadian Geographical Features," the purpose of which was to standardize the translation and writing of geographical feature names within a sentence (rather than on a map). Although the rules were written for the translation of English names into French, the committee did recommend that, where applicable, they also be followed for the translation of French names into English.


The principles enunciated in the Treasury Board policy are as follows:

  • The official form of a geographical name is the one adopted by the provincial or federal authorities in whose jurisdiction an entity lies. This name can be found in the Gazetteer of Canada.
  • Certain geographical names of pan-Canadian significance have well-known, official forms in both English and French. Both forms may be used on maps and in documents. See GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES: NAMES OF PAN-CANADIAN SIGNIFICANCE
  • All other geographical names have only one official form, which is the one to be used on federal maps in either official language.
  • In documents, it is permissible to translate the generic portion of names of geographical features, that is, the portion that indicates the nature of the entity (Lake in "Arrow Lake"), but not the specific portion that names the entity (Arrow in "Arrow Lake").
  • Names of inhabited places retain their official form in both English and French texts, e.g. Montréal (Que.), Saint John (N.B.), and St. John’s (N.L.)