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How are U.S. states, territories, and commonwealths designated in the Geographic Names Information System?

Several categories with different meanings and requirements fall under the jurisdiction of the United States and are contained in the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) data.

States and DC

  • 50 States plus the Federal District known as District of Columbia

Commonwealths

  • Puerto Rico (Caribbean)
  • Northern Marianas Islands (Pacific) (former Trust Territory of the United Nations elected by plebiscite to join the U.S.)

Territories (various types)

  • Guam (Pacific) (physically part of the Marianas Islands but politically separate)
  • American Samoa (Pacific)
  • U.S. Virgin Islands (Caribbean) (uses “U.S.” in name to distinguish from neighboring British Virgin Islands)

Miscellaneous Insular or Outlying Areas - No permanent population. Periodically inhabited by military personnel or scientists, otherwise uninhabited.

  • Baker Island (Pacific)
  • Howland Island (Pacific)
  • Jarvis Island (Pacific)
  • Palmyra Atoll (an atoll is a coral reef) (Pacific)
  • Johnston Island (Pacific)
  • Kingman Reef (Pacific)
  • Midway Islands (Pacific)
  • Wake Island (Pacific)
  • Navassa Island (Caribbean)

Freely Associated States – The word “State” is used here in the international sense as an independent country with the exception that the United States is responsible for their defense.

  • Federated States of Micronesia (Pacific) (Former United Nations Trust Territory elected by plebiscite to become "independent")
  • Republic of the Marshall Islands (Pacific) (Former United Nations Trust Territory elected by plebiscite to become "independent")
  • Republic of Palau (Pacific) (Former portion of a United Nations Trust Territory elected by plebiscite to become "independent")

Note: Corn Islands and Swan Islands were formerly U.S. but were ceded to Nicaragua and Honduras, respectively. Also, Serrana Bank and Roncador Bank were ceded by the U.S. to Colombia. All of these are in the Caribbean.

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