What’s in a name? The USGS on NHD Feature Names Inspection

by Cynthia Deischer and Ray Postolovski

Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet meet in Shakespeare’s tale.  They are predestined from the start because of their surnames. Juliet tells Romeo that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention.  Meaning what matters is what something is, not what it is called.  However in the geospatial community, a name is far from meaningless and what something is named is just as important as what something is.  Working within the US Topo program, it can be seen how names add meaning and value to the products.  Not only do we revere names as cartographers, but our constituents expect and rely on them.  So with that, it is the goal of the USGS to help populate NHD features with their respective names so to provide meaning and information.

Beginning with the State of Texas, hydrography feature names were inspected and updated in the NHD using current Geographic Names Information System, Gazetteer (Gaz) data.  A total of 1,263 NHDArea, Waterbody, and Flowline features were identified with missing or non-matching Gaz names.  From the total, 835 waterbodies and 428 flowlines were identified with missing names.  None were found in area features.  This affected 20 subregions which were then reviewed and corrected, taking about 5-6 days to complete the necessary edits.  Working a subregion at a time, about 800 missing features names were added.  Approximately 180 features with a discrepancy between the NHD and Gaz are being researched by the Names group to determine the appropriate name.  Once a decision is made, the features may need to be updated at a later date. Approximately 300 Gaz features, mainly bays, guts, channels, and sloughs didn’t have an associated NHD feature to attribute.  Now that these names have been identified and updated, the community can benefit from this effort.

Numerous NHD flowline and waterbody features were updated with correct names attributes

Figure 1: Numerous NHD flowline and waterbody features were updated with correct names attributes

The USGS plans to continue this effort with each subsequent state during the 2013 fiscal year. These include, in order; New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Colorado. Coordination with the state partners will occur prior to starting any work. A list of names that may potentially be addressed will be shared with each state.

Special thanks to Cynthia Deischer and Ray Postolovski for providing this post. Questions? Email NHD (nhd@usgs.gov).

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Project Manager for the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World Environment Team

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