Gazetteer (Flat Vocabulary)

Definition, description, and example of a gazetteer

Flat Vocabularies Multi -Level Vocabularies Relational Vocabularies
Authority File Glossary Dictionary Gazetteer Code List Taxonomy Subject Heading Thesaurus Semantic Network Ontology

In the context of metadata, a gazetteer is a geographic term list, which is a specific type of flat controlled vocabulary.


The main point of a gazetteer is to identify locations within a standardized coordinate system. For systems to be able to communicate effectively, locations must be clearly articulated.

The additional information provided by a gazetteer includes the necessary points of reference to find that particular location. These points of reference take the form of coordinates (lat/lon, x/y, etc.); the coordinates themselves come from a taxonomy that provides coordinates for a list of pre-defined locations. (Taxonomies are discussed in the Multi-Level Vocabularies section.)

In a global environment this is very important. If a project divides the globe into a set of very specific regions, the gazetteer provides reference points and, therefore, meaning to the names for these regions. By necessity, a gazetteer will encompass a GIS (geographic information system). It can take the form of an XML file, an ArcGIS layer, a shapefile, or a location information file designed for a home-grown interface.

Example - National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Country Files

Click on image to enlarge.

This gazetteer (represented in a table for web display purposes) is available online. Each area is completely described in one row of the document. Documentation provided by the managing body is extremely important. Without it, you might be able to guess that LAT is latitude in decimal degrees, but you might not understand that DMS_LAT is latitude in degrees, minutes, and seconds. In addition, codes used throughout this gazetteer indicate things like a region or a feature classification. Neither the gazetteer nor the code list would make sense alone.

Suggested Citation

Neiswender, C. 2011. "Gazetteer (Flat Vocabulary)." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed July 16, 2020.