Murphy Funeral Homes

4510 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA


Donald J. Orth

July 26, 1925October 30, 2019

Donald J. Orth died peacefully in his home in Falls Church on October 30, 2019 at the age of 94.

Born in Wisconsin, he was a graduate of the University there, where he studied anthropology, cartography, and geography. In 1942 he joined the U.S. Navy and was in the landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He began a 39-year career with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver, CO where he was involved in topographic surveying programs in the western United States.

Orth became chief of the Geological Survey's Office of Geographic Names in 1960 and compiled a number of publications, notably The Dictionary of Alaska Place Names. He was responsible for developing the Geographic Names Information System, the world's first effort to deal with national names by automated methods. His articles have been published in a number of UN publications. Orth received the U.S. Department of Interior's Medal and Meritorious Service Award for substantial contributions to cartography through his work in toponymy. He has always had a special interest in mountain climbing, having climbed 46 mountains with elevations of 14,000 or more in Colorado. He has traveled throughout the world including Antarctica. A keen interest in historic preservation led him to work weekends for 26 years restoring a 1750 frame house in Virginia. He taught courses in geography at George Washington University and Catholic University in Washington, DC and was active in several professional organizations: The American Name Society, The Arlington Historical Society, and The Washington Group Explorers Club, all of which he has served as President. He was an avid ancient numismatist and is a member of the International Congress of Onomastic Sciences.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Julia Orth; a brother, Raymond Orth; two daughters, LaDonna Marie O’Loughlin and Mary Ellen Kent; a son, David Michael Orth; two grandchildren, Eugene O’Loughlin and Lisa White; and one great-grandchild, Joshua O’Loughlin. He is survived by his wife, Martha B. Orth; three grandsons, Christopher O’Loughlin, Scott O’Loughlin and Michael O’Loughlin; two granddaughters, Gené Kent Kirkwood and Nicole Kent Cowling; 10 great-grandchildren and 17 great-great grandchildren.

Mr. Orth will be interred in the cemetery at North Farnham Episcopal Church in Virginia’s Northern Neck. A memorial service will be held at First Presbyterian Church of Arlington on November 16 at 11:00 a.m.


  • Memorial Service Saturday, November 16, 2019


Donald J. Orth

have a memory or condolence to add?

Marie Matsuno Nash

November 6, 2019

I was fortunate to meet Mr. Orth at a National Geographic Names Board meeting in California when I attended on behalf of the Alaska Geographic Names Board, where I also met Ted and Sally Inouye, an uncle of my good friend Ron of Fairbanks. I really appreciated the Alaska Geographic Names Board directory Donald Orth wrote, it was like a bible full of information related to our great State of Alaska.
At that meeting in California there was a proposal regarding a name change, and Adam Ansel testified along with others.
I have a photo of Mr. Orth wearing that cap when several of us went to a local hangout, and another Alaskan friend by the name of Letha Remley joined us.

Condolences to his family.