A Gazetteer for the United States and Canada
Home >> Post Office Naming RulesSitemap...

The Naming of Post Offices

Prior to 1891 ...

There were no written policies concerning the naming of post offices prior to 1891. The community or a postmaster would propose a name when applying for a post office. The Post Office Department could accept or reject the proposed name - it might even insist upon a name of its own choosing.

The names were usually based upon the community, a township, a railroad stop, a location or feature like a crossroad. In some cases, the post master supplied their own name, that of a family member or the name of the business that handled the mail.

There are cases where the community's name was rejected and another name had to be picked. In some cases, the application for a post office left the name blank and then the Post Office Department would chose a name of their own.

There are cases where the name of the community and the post office are different. Maybe the name of an established post office was changed because the community or the postmaster requested a new name. It might be that the name of a post office was too similar to another and one or both were changed to minimize confusion. If a large community had more than one post office, the post offices had to have different names.

After 1891 ...

In 1891, the Postmaster General issued Miscellaneous Order #87 to the U.S. Post Office Department. That order directed all branches to use the spelling of new names so that they matched those published in the bulletins of the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN) - see our write-up about the BGN Placename Rules.

In general, those rules are:

  • Retain euphonious (harmonious-sounding) and suitable names of Indian, Spanish, or French origin.

  • Rarely apply names of living persons; only those of great eminence should be so honored.

  • Avoid long and clumsily constructed names and those of two or more words.

  • Adopt spelling and pronunciation sanctioned by local usage.

  • Do not restore the original form of changed or corrupted names.

  • Use the most appropriate and euphonious name sanctioned by local usage when there is a choice of two or more names for the same place.

  • Avoid the possessive unless its omission destroys the euphony of the name or changes its descriptive application.

  • Drop the "h" in "burgh."

  • Use the word "center," not "centre," as part of the name unless local usage or legal documents require the latter.

  • Do no use hyphens in connecting parts of names.

  • Omit the letters "C.H." (courthouse) appended to names of county seats.

  • Avoid the use of the words "city" and "town" as parts of names.

  • The Board decided that names adopted either by legislative enactment or charter are authoritative.

In 1892, Miscellaneous Order #48 instructed the Department not to establish any post office whose name differed from that of the town or village in which it was located. When appropriate, the post office name should match the name of the local railway station - this was done to ease the movement of mail between the Railway Mail Service and the post office.

In 1894, Miscellaneous Order #114 instructed:

"To remove a cause of annoyance to the Department and injury to the Postal Service in the selection of names for newly established post offices, it is hereby ordered that from this date only short names or names of one word will be accepted. (Names of post offices will only be changed for reasons satisfactory to the Department.)"

In addition, specific instructions pertaining to the naming of post offices appeared on Form 1011, Location Paper (geographic site location report), issued by the Post Office Department:

The use of prefixes, such as "East", "Old", "New", "North", "South" or "West" and additions, such as "Burg", "Center", "City", "Corners", "Creek", "Cross Roads", "Depot", "Hill", "Hotel", "Hollow", "Junction", "Mill", "Mound", "Peak", "Plains", "Point", "Port", "Prairie", "Rock", "River", "Run", "Ridge", "Store", "Station", "Springs", "Town", "Vale", "Valley" or "Village" was considered objectionable. Such prefixes or additions were thought likely to cause confusion and delay in the transmission of the mails.

With Miscellaneous Order #417, also from 1894, an order was issued to standardize their records:

"in the orthography of the names of post offices to that used in the lists of post offices contained in the Official Postal Guide."

And finally, Miscellaneous Order #189 ordered that there should be no changes in spelling or abbreviation in preparing names for the Postal Guide.

Of course, looking at the names in our database, it's obvious that there were exceptions to the above.

The Post Office Department became the United States Postal Service (USPS) in 1971.


Copyright 2024
All Rights Reserved

Thank you for visiting our website.

In closing, please keep in mind that we can not guarantee the accuracy or timeliness of the information on this website, so use with care. We encourage you to double-check the information that is critical to you.

If you've found an error or have additional information that you would like to share, please don't hesitate to write: Click here to contact us.

This page was last modified/updated: 04 Feb 2024