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Hydrography and Geographic Names

The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, contains information about physical and cultural geographic features in the United States and associated areas, both current and historical (not including roads and highways).

Page navigation: Purpose | Relationship to NHD | Checking Names | Names Partnerships | Submit Names by Web Forms | Submit Names Data in Batch | Names Data | Contact Information



The GNIS is the official vehicle for geographic names use by the Federal Government and the source for applying geographic names to Federal maps & other printed and electronic products. The system supports the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, a Federal body created in 1890 and established in its present form by Public Law in 1947. The Board serves the Federal Government, other government agencies, and the public as the central authority to which name inquiries, name issues, and new name proposals may be directed.

The GNIS provides names data to government agencies and to the public, provides the Geographic Names data layers to The National Map, and is the source for the gazetteer (Find Place) search in The National Map viewer. Web map and features services for names data also are available.

The database holds the federally recognized name of each feature and defines the location of the feature by state, county, USGS topographic map, and geographic coordinates. Other feature attributes include names or spellings other than the official name, feature designations, feature class, historical and descriptive information. The database assigns a unique feature identifier, a random number, that is a key for accessing, integrating, or reconciling GNIS data with other datasets. The GNIS is our Nation's official repository of domestic geographic feature names information.


Relationship to NHD

The GNIS is closely integrated with the National Hydrography Dataset. The hydrographic feature names contained in and displayed by the NHD are from the GNIS. When partners submit new data to NHD, feature names are validated against the GNIS (See NHD Data Maintenance). To meet legal and policy requirements of the Board on Geographic Names, the NHD will display a hydrographic feature name only if the feature is entered into GNIS with an assigned Feature ID.


Checking Names

To verify that a feature name is in the GNIS database, go to the Geographic Names Information System web site, select "Query U.S. and territories", and enter the feature data. Alternately, you may verify a name through The National Map viewer. Click on Find Place, Geographic Name search, and enter the feature data.

The GNIS data also may be accessed directly through web map and feature services for larger queries or for customized application interfaces. Efforts are ongoing to provide geographic and textual data download capabilities in all standard formats. In the meantime, customized datasets will be provided upon request.

In addition to the official feature name, the GNIS contains names that are not official, called variants, that may be historical, other names used locally, or alternate spellings of the official name. The NHD will accept and display only official names. However, variants are accepted for the GNIS from any valid documented source, current or historical. The GNIS public web site queries variant names as well as official names.


Names Partnerships

The Geographic Names Information System and National Hydrography Dataset are important elements of The National Map. The Geographic Names Office is actively seeking partners among Federal, State, and local government agencies to contribute and help maintain names data for hydrographic and other features.

The GNIS has been accumulating data for over twenty five years from numerous sources, but the challenge of maintaining a comprehensive and current data has become greater. Our partners are active participants and key resources. Every effort will be expended to establish mutually beneficial partnerships using the latest technology and processes.


Submit Names by Web Forms

Authorized representatives of Federal, State, or local government agencies may submit geographic feature names data directly to the Geographic Names Office using password-protected, web data entry/edit forms. Users may submit feature names data for features not in GNIS and may submit recommended changes to names data for existing features in the database.


Submit Names Data in Batch

Agencies with feature datasets containing names are encouraged to submit copies of those datasets to the Geographic Names Office. They will be compared with the data in the GNIS. Features not in GNIS will be entered and assigned a Feature ID. Incorrect features in GNIS will be revised. It is possible that GNIS contains additional features and/or more current data than the submitting agency, in which case that data will be provided. The GNIS Feature IDs for all records will be returned to the submitting agency to facilitate ongoing synchronization of the data.


Names Data

All data will be reviewed and validated by the Geographic Names Office. Questions will be resolved with the submitting agency in accordance with Board on Geographic Names policies. New names or name changes for natural geographic features shall be submitted in accordance with the policies of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. In those few instances where the name of a natural feature may cause controversy, a Board decision may take a few months.

However, in almost all cases, names data for non-controversial natural features, and for non-natural or cultural features will be accepted from authorized sources. They will be entered into the database within two weeks, and then will be available for query and display in The National Map, the GNIS, and the NHD.


Contact Information

For information concerning the GNIS services and partnerships, and/or to request an account for the data entry/edit forms, please contact the GNIS Manager. Please direct all comments and questions about the National Hydrography Dataset, and accompanying documentation, to the National Hydrography Support Mailbox.

Call 1-888-ASK-USGS (1-888-275-8747), or e-mail via the USGS Contact Us page with comments and questions relating to other USGS products and services.