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Geographical Names

Geographical names provide orientation and identity to places. They are location identifiers for cultural and physical features of the real world, such as regions, settlements, or any feature of public or historical interest. They are often used as a proxy for other data themes such as Settlements.

Why is this theme fundamental?

Geographical names are used throughout the world as a geographic identification system and thus have potential to inter-relate and cross-reference disparate data sources, both spatial and non-spatial. Standardised geographical names are essential for effective communication between citizens, governments of all levels, decision-makers, and policy-makers.

Geographical names are often used for geocoding and mapping. The geocoding use case consists of transforming an indirect location identifier (here a geographical name) into a direct location identifier defined by a set of coordinates. Geographical names are the most common, understandable, and widely used entry-point for broader searches for geospatial data and information and are therefore, necessary as search criteria in gazetteers, geoportals, spatial data catalogues etc. Geographical names are also required for a wide range of topographical and thematic map output at any scale. They are necessary for a consistent communication and visualisation of any SDG related issue or action.

Which sustainable development goals (SDGs) will it help to meet?

The wide use of geographical names makes them relevant for all SDGs.

Geospatial data features in more detail

The Geographical Names theme may comprise attributes of feature types that are already in another fundamental geospatial data theme, such as Transport Networks or Water, and/or as feature types that are not yet in another theme. A named place (e.g. settlement, mountain, bay) may have several names in different languages. Many named features have indeterminate boundaries but, where feasible, their delineation should be included.

Possible sources of data
National geographical names datasets are usually maintained by public authorities for features on land, coastal or marine areas. Additionally, many datasets are published by (semi-official) bodies with a particular goal (e.g. for certain region, languages, topics...).

Existing Data Standards
Note: This is indicative. Other lists of standards exist and UN-GGIM will seek to work with thematic experts to develop a list of relevant data standards.
  • Technical reference manual for the standardization of geographical names, (UNGEGN), 2007, ISBN: 92-1-161500-5;
  • INSPIRE Data Specification on Geographical Names – Technical Guidelines 3.1;
  • ISO 639 Language Code List for the language of origin of geographical names; and,
  • UTF-8 character set (UNICODE) for the exchange of syllabics, diacritics and other special characters.