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Winchester-on-the-Severn

Earlier today, I was looking up something on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). As its name implies, the GNIS is a database of geographic names, containing cities, towns, and neighborhoods, bodies of water, geographical features, parks, buildings, and all sorts of other unexpected things. It’s been very useful, but it’s also just plain fun for a map nut like me.

Today, I was reading the GNIS FAQ, which is more interesting than you might imagine. How do places get named or renamed? (It’s complicated.) What is the most common community name? (Fairview and Midway are neck-and-neck.) Is there really a Springfield in every state? (Not even close!) Are possessive forms really discouraged in place names? (Yes, but…) And what’s the longest community name in the US? (If you allow hyphens, it’s the title of this post, if not it’s Mooselookmeguntic, Maine.) Who knew?

Incidentally, there is also an international version of the GNIS, the Geographic Names Database, hosted by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Personally, I’m just amazed there’s something called the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Ah, I see it evolved out of the Defense Mapping Agency.