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agency bullet Terminology Guide (GNS)

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Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names. A subcommittee of the United States Board on Geographic Names. Antarctic names are maintained by the USGS, and are searchable on the GNIS. PRP provides at least one member on this committee. It is important to note that the United States does not recognize any claims of sovereignty over Antarctic territory.
Advisory Committee on Undersea Features. A subcommittee of the United States Board on Geographic Names. Undersea feature names are maintained by PRP, and are searchable on the GNS. NGA/PRP provides the secretariat for the committee. Undersea features have no designated sovereignty.
ADM 1 Codes
First-order administrative division. An administrative area directly subordinate to the pertinent governing authority.
United States Board on Geographic Names. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is a Federal body created in 1890 and established in its present form by Public Law in 1947 to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government. The Board comprises representatives of Federal agencies concerned with geographic information, population, ecology, and management of public lands. Sharing its responsibilities with the Secretary of the Interior, the Board promulgates official geographic feature names with locative attributes as well as principles, policies, and procedures governing the use of domestic names, foreign names, Antarctic names, and undersea feature names.
Coded Representation
The representation of an item or of a feature class by an alphanumeric or graphic code; the result of applying code to any member of a coded set.
Council of Geographic Names Authorities. The Council of Geographic Names Authorities is an independent non-profit organization made up of the official geographic names authorities in the United States. It was organized by dedicated professionals representing the official State geographic names boards, committees, and councils in conjunction with the United States Board on Geographic Names.
Composite Name
Toponym consisting of a generic element and a specific element, or of a specific element consisting of more than one word. Ex: Mount Cook, Newport, Newfoundland
A geodetic datum (plural datums, not data) is a reference from which measurements are made. In surveying and geodesy, a datum is a set of reference points on the earth's surface against which position measurements are made, and (often) an associated model of the shape of the earth (reference ellipsoid) to define a geographic coordinate system. Horizontal datums are used for describing a point on the earth's surface, in latitude and longitude or another coordinate system. Vertical datums measure elevations or depths.
Result of any act by means of which a domestic geographic name in controversy regarding its form or application is made by the Board on Geographic Names or its Domestic Names Committee after review of case information developed by indepth staff investigation of the name and (or) its application.
Decision Description
Published information given for each domestic geographic name decision that describes the nature and location of the named geographic entity, and in some cases, the origin or meaning of the name.
Diacritics are the accent marks found over or under letters in many foreign languages, such as the tilde in Spanish. Special characters are non-English letters, such as the eszett in German.
Domestic Names Committee. The BGN committee responsible for geographic names within the United States and its territories and possessions. The USGS houses the DNC staff.
Domestic Geographic Name
The proper name of a geographic entity in the United States, its territories, and outlying areas.
Name used in a specific language for a geographical feature situated outside the area where that language has official status, and differing in its form from the name used in the official language or languages of the area where the geographical feature is situated.
Name of a geographical feature in one of the languages occurring in that area where the feature is situated.
Feature Class
Grouping of topographic features with similar characteristics to facilitate classification, search and retrieval.
Foreign Names Committee. The BGN committee responsible for geographic names outside the United States and its territories and possessions. NGA/PRP houses the FNC staff.
File Transfer Protocol. A file transfer on a computer network.
Federal Information Processing Standards
Fuzzy Matching
Fuzzy matching allows you to search for place names, even if you don't know exactly how they are spelled. It is similar to a GNS 'Starts With', 'Contains', or 'Ends With' query, and similar to a GNS query which uses wild cards, but fuzzy matching is more sophisticated and more powerful, because it is tuned to name matching, not simply to general string matching. To find out more click here.
A gazetteer is a geographical dictionary or directory, an important reference for information about places and place names, used in conjunction with a map or a full atlas. It typically contains information concerning the geographical makeup of a country, region, or continent as well as the social statistics and physical features, such as mountains, waterways, or roads.
Generic Term
A common noun that describes a topographic feature in terms of its chracteristics and not by its proper name.
Geographic Name
A name applied to a geographic feature. It is the proper name, specific term, or expression by which a particular geographic entity is, or was, known. A geographic entity is any relatively permanent part of the natural or manmade landscape or seascape that has recognizable identity within a particular cultural context. A geographic name, then, may refer to any place, feature, or area on the Earth's surface, or to a related group of similar places, features, or areas.
GIS Output
Geographic Information Systems compatible output format. There are two types: reading order and reversed generic. Reading order is usually used in mapping applications (ex. Mount Everest), while reversed generic is used mainly for databases and printed gazetteer listings (ex. Everest, Mount).
Geographic Names Database. The database maintained by the FNC staff that is the sole repository of foreign place names approved for US Government use.
Geographic Names Information System. The tool used to query geographic names for the United States and its territories.
Geographic Names Processing System. The tool used by the FNC staff to update, add to, and modify foreign place names to the GNDB.
GEOnet Names Server. The tool used to query geographic names housed in the GNDB. The GNS is available to all on the internet.
Information provided to assist in understanding a principle, policy, or procedure.
Refers to a body of water.
Hydrography is that branch of applied sciences which deals with the measurement and description of the features of the seas and coastal areas for the primary purpose of navigation and all other marine purposes and activities, including -inter alia- offshore activities, research, protection of the environment, and prediction services.
Topologic features above sea level.
International Hydrographic Organization. The International Hydrographic Organization is an intergovernmental consultative and technical organization that was established in 1921 to support the safety in navigation and the protection of the marine environment.
The object of the Organization is to bring about:
  • The coordination of the activities of national hydrographic offices
  • The greatest possible uniformity in nautical charts and documents
  • The adoption of reliable and efficient methods of carrying out and exploiting hydrographic surveys
  • The development of the sciences in the field of hydrography and the techniques employed in descriptive oceanography
The official representative of each Member Government within the IHO is normally the national Hydrographer, or Director of Hydrography, and these persons, together with their technical staff, meet at 5-yearly intervals in Monaco for an International Hydrographic Conference. The Conference reviews the progress achieved by the Organization and adopts the programmes to be pursued during the ensuing 5-year period. A Directing Committee of three senior hydrographers is elected to administer the work of the Bureau during that time.
Indigenous Language
Language native to a given region.
International Organization for Standardization. The world's largest developer and publisher of International Standards. ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 157 countries, one member per country, with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system. ISO is a non-governmental organization that forms a bridge between the public and private sectors. On the one hand, many of its member institutes are part of the governmental structure of their countries, or are mandated by their government. On the other hand, other members have their roots uniquely in the private sector, having been set up by national partnerships of industry associations. Therefore, ISO enables a consensus to be reached on solutions that meet both the requirements of business and the broader needs of society.
Joint Operations Graphic reference.
Linguistic Region
Region or area where a particular language constitutes the official or principal language.
Minimum Bounding Rectangle. An area, usually defined by Southwest and Northeast coordinates, used to define an area of concentration for analysis.
Modify Date and Time. The Modify Date and Time is the date that the feature was added to the database or the date the last change was made to any field in the feature record.
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Names Authority
A body such as a person, board or commission, assigned advisory function and/or power of decision in matters of toponymy by a legally constituted entity such as a State.
Official Name
A geographic name, and its written form and application, approved or recognized as official by the Board for use throughout the Federal Government. An official name is established either by policy or decision of the Board on Geographic Names.
The Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use. The Permanent Committee on Geographical Names is an independent inter-departmental body which was established in 1919. Its principal function is to advise the British government on policies and procedures for the proper writing of geographical names for places and features outside the United Kingdom, excluding those of the Antarctic. It provides a unique toponymic perspective on current global political affairs.
The study and classification of sounds made in spoken language.
Physical Feature
Any topographic feature that can be observed visually.
Same as Geographic Name.
A statement of regulation(s) relating to particular toponymic circumstances; used to guide and determine present and future decisions.
A fundamental doctrine that applies to all toponymic conditions that fall under its purview; used to guide and determine present and future decisions.
A set of instructions outlining steps to accomplish a particular goal, such as submitting name proposals to the Board on Geographic Names or the application of geographic names to Federal maps, charts, and other publications.
A map projection is any method of representing the surface of a sphere or other shape on a plane. Map projections are necessary for creating maps. All map projections distort the surface in some fashion. Depending on the purpose of the map, some distortions are acceptable and others are not; therefore different map projections exist in order to preserve some properties of the sphere-like body at the expense of other properties. There is no limit to the number of possible map projections.
Raster Mode
In a computer, storage and display of data on a dense grid of pixels arranged in columns and rows.
Revised Decision
Result of an action of the Board on Geographic Names or its Domestic Names Committee to revise the selection, form, or spelling of a former decision.
Revised DescriptionSee Revised Decision.
Conversion from non-Roman into Roman script.
Romanization Key
Table listing the characters of a non-Roman script together with corresponding letters of a Roman alphabet, including diacritics as required.
Standard Language
The form of speech and/or writing of a language that is specified as correct by an officially appointed or widely recognized authority, or, in the absence of such an authority, that is generally accepted as correct in a linguistic community.
Standardized Endonym
Endonym sanctioned by a names authority.
Statutory Name
A name made official by an act of the U.S. Congress.
Tab Delimited
Delimited data uses tabs (delimiters) to separate its values. Most database and spreadsheet programs are able to read or save data in a delimited format.
Topographic Line Map. Large scale topographic maps are intended for mass dissemination to tactical units needing cross-country information. They portray topographic and cultural features. Feature portrayal includes relief, drainage, vegetation, populated places, cultural features, roads and railroads.
The study of Earth's surface features. In a broader sense, topography is concerned with local detail in general, including not only relief but also vegetative and human-made features, and even local history and culture.
The name of a geographical place.
One who studies toponymy.
The scientific study of place-names (toponyms), their origins, meanings, use and typology. It is itself a branch of onomastics, the study of names of all kinds. A toponym is a name of a locality, region, or some other part of Earth's surface, including natural features (such as streams) and artificial ones (such as cities).
Unique Feature Identifier
Undersea Feature
A portion of the earth that lies beneath the surface of an ocean or a sea and that has recognizable identity. Ex: Dogger Bank, Mariana Trench
The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names. The Group of Experts on Geographical Names was set up by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in pursuance of the Economic and Social Council resolution 715 A (XXVII) of 23 April 1959. Under this resolution, it had the following terms of reference: (i) to consider the technical problems of domestic standardization of geographical names, including the preparation of a statement of the general and regional problems involved, and to prepare draft recommendations for the procedures, principally linguistic, that might be followed in the standardization of their own names by individual countries; and (ii) to report to the Council at an appropriate session on the desirability of holding an international conference on this subject and of sponsoring working groups based on linguistic systems; (iii) to invite Governments of countries interested and experienced in the question to make available, at the request of the Secretary-General, and at their own expense, consultants to serve on the above group.
Unique Name Identifier
Industry standard allowing computers to consistently represent and manipulate text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. Developed in tandem with the Universal Character Set standard and published in book form as The Unicode Standard, Unicode consists of a repertoire of more than 100,000 characters, a set of code charts for visual reference, an encoding methodology and set of standard character encodings, an enumeration of character properties such as upper and lower case, a set of reference data computer files, and a number of related items, such as character properties, rules for normalization, decomposition, collation, rendering and bidirectional display order (for the correct display of text containing both right-to-left scripts, such as Arabic or Hebrew, and left-to-right scripts).
United States Geological Survey. A scientific agency, part of the Department of the Interior. The USGS produces domestic topographic maps, and houses the DNC staff.
Unicode transformation format. Can be represented as UTF-8, UTF-16, and UTF-32.
Unofficial Name
A geographic name not formally recognized as official by the Board on Geographic Names.
Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate grid reference.
UTM grid
A plane grid of rectangular coordinates overprinted on maps to assist in defining locations. It covers the entire globe in 60 meridional zones with a width of 6 degrees longitude each, these zones being numbered 1-60 from the International Date Line eastward.
Vacated Decision
Result of an action of the Board on Geographic Names or the Domestic Names Committee to formally annul a former decision, such as when the named feature no longer exists or when it cannot be identified.
Variant Name
A name or spelling, once or currently used to refer to a particular geographic entity, other than the official name.
Language or dialect native to a region, as distinct from the standard language.
Wildcard (*)
Wildcards are entered into the search field in place of a known letter, using % for 0 or more characters, or _ that specifies one character.

For a description of fields in country files, click here.

Point of Contact: GEOnet Names Server
NGA Campus East
phone 571-557-5959, DSN 547-5959

Document last modified September 24, 2014

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