GEOnet Names Server

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Available languages — GEOnet Names Server
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Not to be confused with GNIS, a database of U.S. and Antarctica features. Or Geonames, a dataset we can't use.

The GEOnet Names Server (GNS) is a database for locations outside the United States and Antarctica. It is the official repository of foreign place-name decisions approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. There are no licensing requirements or restrictions in place for the use of the GNS data, so in that respect it is suitable for OSM use.

Each entry is one line in a text file showing, amongst other things, the latitude/longitude position, name in both in Unicode UTF-8 and reduced to the closest purely English equivalent, and a classification of the type of feature (Feature Classification Code) such as rivers, mountains, populated places.

Individual country files or one big (roughly 371 MB) file can be downloaded here:

http://geonames.nga.mil/gns/html/

or viewed at:

http://geonames.nga.mil/namesviewer/ (Not to be confused with geonames.org)

The data is updated every month, though some countries much more frequently than others.

A number of people have written scripts to convert the information to OSM. See User:Ewmjc/GNS 2 OSM Conversion Script for a Perl version written by MikeCollinson.

The data is available in editors like JOSM using WMS http://geonames.nga.mil/names/service.svc/get?request=GetCapabilities&service=WMS&version=1.3.0 (layer Approved_(N)). However, sometimes it is difficult to read the PNG layer.

You can also import the data in OpenOffice Calc or MS Excel and save it as CSV file and open this with the JOSM/Plugins/OpenData plugin in JOSM.

Caveats

While the data can be quite useful you should note the following:

  • Once a name is put into the database, it is never removed unless it is an obvious duplicate. This means that there are many, many names that have no modern significance.
  • The geographical resolution is often very coarse, from experience features can often be two to three kilometres from their actual locations.
  • Places where people live are are generally just classifies as "PPL", Populated Place. This can be anything from a city to what is now just a farm house.
  • There is a small but significant amount of entries that are inaccurate or plain wrong:
    mistranscriptions, places that are listed as in one country but actually somewhere else completely.
  • If you use not only the approved data, but also spelling variants and so on, you have often more than one node with the same coordinates, containing each of them another spelling variant. You might then want to download a perl file (and edit it to your needs) which the Russian community used to merge the gns info into one node.

Tags

Tags - example

  • GNS:id = -2011484
  • GNS:dsg_code = PPL
  • GNS:dsg_string = populated place
  • is_in:country = Nigeria
  • name = Ikara
  • place = village
  • source:name = GNS

Note: Unfortunately, it appears that separate imports may have used separate tagging schemes for GNS data. See talk.

Links