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A gazetteer is an alphabetical list of place names with information that can be used to locate the areas that the names are associated with. They are especially useful when place names have changed multiple times. For example, a gazetteer will help a user to locate an area even if they only have the French name when the place is currently commonly known by a German name.

There are three styles of gazetteer: alphabetical list, dictionary, and encyclopedic.

The alphabetical list includes place names and locations, information typically found in atlases, and a minimal indication—often latitude and longitude coordinates or some other Cartesian-coordinate scheme—of where it is to be found on any accompanying map(s).

Dictionary-style gazetteers include location information in the form of geographic coordinates or descriptions of spatial relationships to other places. Entries may also include a pronunciation guide and limited information on demographics and history. Because gazetteers are not able to cover an area in its entirety, most gazetteer preparers will include a preface describing how inclusion decisions were made.

Encyclopedic gazetteers will include all the information of a dictionary-style gazetteer, but the information will be more detailed and may come in the form of articles written by area specialists. Information will be expanded, but the scope will still be limited. These gazetteers should also include a statement explaining those limitations.

The UIUC Map Library houses an extensive collection of US state gazetteers, world gazetteers, and country gazetteers. The collection ranges from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Our gazetteer collection is non-circulating, but patrons may freely browse. Gazetteers are organized alphabetically by country and US state.

Online Gazetteers

Antarctic Names Commemorative names selected by the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names and recommended to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for formal recognition by the United States.

Place Name Sites Compiled by the Arizona State University Map Collection Library.

Canadian Geographical Names From the Canadian Board on Geographic Names, a part of Natural Resources Canada.

Columbia Gazetteer An extensive, encyclopedic world gazetteer. UIUC access only.

GEOnet Names Server A gazetteer of foreign geographic feature names by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names World place names primarily from the field of art history.

JewishGen Gazetteer (Formerly Shtetl Seeker) “A database containing the names of all localities in the 54 countries of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The data is based on the U.S. Board on Geographic Names databases.”

U.S. Gazetteer Produced by the U.S. Census Bureau. Downloadable files.

U.S. Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) USGS database allows searching on U.S. geographic places by specific variables including elevation and population range (will give latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates)

Place Name Organizations

The Council of Geographic Names Authorities (COGNA) A confederation of government agencies in the United States whose goal is to promote national standardization of the names of geographic features in the country.

United States Board on Geographic Names (US BGN) A federal organization that maintains uniform geographic name usage throughout the federal government. From their website you can search for place names and land features under “Domestic Names,” “Foreign Names,” and “Antarctic Names.”

American Name Society A non-profit organization that studies names and naming practices.