Geographic Names Information System


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). 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.


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.

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.

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Popular Q&A

What is Geographic Information System?

A computer application used to store, view, and analyze geographical information, especially maps.

Who invented the geographic information system?

Dr. Robert Tomlinson

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