Tools for working with open geographic data from GeoNames.
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share Names import working, improved README Jun 26, 2013


A set of tools for working with GeoNames data.

GeoNames is an incredible open dataset of place and geographic feature names, containing almost 10 million geolocated names, available for free. It's compiled from dozens of sources, user submissions, and updates. There are a number of web services and client libraries built for searching and interacting with the data, but working with it in bulk is more difficult.

This tool is designed to simplify the process of getting a local database of GeoNames data running for use in cartographic products or analysis tools. My excuse is for making maps in TileMill, and to have a detailed placename datastore to use as map overlay in QGIS.

Downloading Data

There are several tasks in the Makefile that can download and prepare different data, depending on what you need.

Global Dataset

Downloading the full database will download and extract the the global GeoNames data, along with all metadata tables. Files are downloaded to the data directory in the repo.

make data

The full data download includes the full current snapshot of all features, the alternate names lookup table (for multilingual labeling or toponymical analysis), and the large city datasets, for convenience.


GeoNames includes a couple of datasets that augment the placenames data, like admin boundary relationships and feature codes.

  • Alternate names - alternate place names in a variety of languages
  • ISO language codes - ISO-639 codes (parts 1, 2, and 3) for unique languages
  • Feature codes - contains the class IDs, codes, titles, and descriptions
  • Admin 1 codes - Administrative divisions (e.g. states, provinces)
  • Admin 2 codes - Administrative subdivisions (e.g. counties, districts)


If you only want names data for cities and places (for map labeling purposes), there are maintained subsets of placenames for cities divided by population: cities with population over 1000, 5000, and 15000.

make cities

To clean up the data/ cache after you've run imports, run make clean.


To stage up a place to store your GeoNames data, first make a PostgreSQL database:

createdb geonames

When you have a place to put the data, here are some of the tasks you can run to get moving with some data:

  • ./gazetteer.rb setup -d geonames - This step is required for all the other tasks. This populates your database with the proper tables and database schema.
  • ./gazetteer.rb code -s "alb" - The code task takes a search term (like "alb"), and returns the proper ISO country codes for any results (like "Albania" and "Svalbard").
  • ./gazetteer.rb download -c AL - Download a single country of GeoNames data by country code.
  • ./gazetteer.rb metadata -d geonames - Populate your database with placename metadata, like language, feature, and admin codes. Useful for JOINing other info to your placename tables.

code - Search for an ISO code by name or partial string:

$ ./gazetteer.rb code -s Alb
Albania: AL
Svalbard and Jan Mayen: SJ

Other Resources


BSD. GeoNames data is CC-BY.