Among the more commonly asked questions we receive at the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) are those dealing with the correct names of Utah’s geographic features.
Perhaps the best tool for answering these questions is a searchable database established and maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which is part of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). This database, called the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), is available online at geonames.usgs.gov.
Following the American Civil War, a surge of exploration, mining, and settlement of western territories created many inconsistencies and contradictions in geographic names, which became a serious problem for surveyors, map makers, and scientists.
To address this problem, President Benjamin Harrison signed an executive order that created the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in 1890 (the current form of the board was established by a 1947 law). Technology, such as geographic information systems, global positioning systems, and the Internet increases the need for standardized data on geographic names, but it also makes accessing that data quick and easy through the GNIS.
The database includes current and historical information for over 2 million physical (e.g., mountain ranges, summits, lakes, arches, and streams) and cultural (e.g., populated places, churches, airports, and cemeteries) geographic features in the United States, associated areas, and Antarctica. However, it does not include roads and highways.
Named features are located by state, county, USGS topographic quadrangle map, and geographic coordinates. Other attributes include elevation (another commonly asked question at the UGS), alternative and unofficial (variant) names and spellings, feature class/type, historical and descriptive information, and citations.