Giving a singular name to a volcano is a difficult task. Such prominent geographic features often have their names changed through history, or receive different names by different groups of people. Volcanoes are also not singular features, but include a variety of cones, craters, domes, and thermal areas; some older features are destroyed by continuing eruptions. The Volcanoes of the World database designates a "primary" name for each volcano, but also include synonyms and a large number of feature names (and their synonyms).
Primary names are determined based on official use by national geological or geographical agencies, use in scientific publications, names in common use, or local geographical features. In some cases volcanoes are simply listed as "Unnamed" where no other criteria can be applied. Preference is given to the most prominent geological feature, such as using a caldera name as the overall name, but individual circumstances are taken into account. Names cannot be purchased or otherwise chosen by the general public.
As a scientific organization, staff in the Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program are not in any way involved in political territorial disputes. We are concerned with geology, and describing volcanological features with names and locations that enhance understanding and safety. However, such problems cannot be completely avoided, as with the volcanoes on the islands of Kunashir and Iturup in the far southern Kuril Islands north of Hokkaido. The following policy took effect on 1 May 2013.
The GVP is managed within an agency of the United States of America. As such, the Smithsonian Institution's database for this area will strive to be consistent with the State Department of the United States of America, which recognizes Japanese sovereignty over these islands but notes that they are administered by Russia. Accordingly, the primary name will be the preferred Japanese volcano name followed by the preferred Russian name in brackets. Multiple synonyms will remain in the database. In the Country field of the database (present for informational purposes only, and not official US Government policy), the phrase "Japan - administered by Russia" will be used. The volcanic subregion, a field based exclusively on geography, will remain "Kuril Islands" which has no political implications. We also note that volcano numbers, unique identifiers for each volcano, are unchanged regardless of what primary name is being used.