Swiss geographic names

Spatial referencing is one of the most important aspects of everyday life. It often determines our life and actions without being noticed. Verbal communication in association with topographic objects is difficult to imagine without the use of names. It is much easier to locate geographic units and elements with the aid of names than through the use of coordinates.

The picture shows an aerial image which is overlaid by geographic names in the region of the Bernese Alps.

What are geographic names?

The term «geographic names» refers to the proper names given to topographic objects. Named topographic objects include residential zones and hamlets, individual objects (castles, mansions, monasteries, churches), transport infrastructure (railway stations, bus stops, bridges, tunnels, airports and airfields), natural objects (landscapes, valleys, glaciers, mountains), bodies of water, administrative units.      

Specification and spelling of names

The relevant cantonal authorities are responsible for specifying their geographic names in cooperation with the cantonal nomenclature committees and the respective municipalities. The specification of municipal names following mergers and name changes, as well as place names in accordance with the official catalogue and station names, is subject to an official procedure in which, for example, the suitability of a proposed name is carefully examined. The Federal Office of Topography swisstopo frequently adopts coordination and consulting tasks within the scope of this process and also formulates recommendations regarding the spelling of the names of municipalities, localities, stations and streets. 

Special characteristics of geographic names

Languages 

In Switzerland, one of the special characteristics of geographic names concerns the fact that, for certain topographic objects, several names exist and are incorporated into the nomenclature for the national survey. As a rule, these concern descriptions of objects in the country’s official languages, but there are also cases in which several names are used in the same language. A mountain in the canton of Ticino, for example, has two names in Italian: in the 1:25,000 national map it is called both Pizzo di Claro as well as Visagno (coordinates, 724588 / 128464).

Names and numbers

For certain topographic objects, the name has to be accompanied by numbers. This primarily concerns the names of mountain peaks, passes, hills, etc., for which the altitude is indicated. In these cases, altitude is an essential component of the name. By contrast, geographic names are not allocated to altitudes without a specific object name.

Place names

Place names are collected and managed within the scope of the cantonal cadastral survey. They refer to small portions of the landscape that have been named in the local dialect. In terms of quantity, field names account for by far the largest nomenclature category. The digital dataset of the cadastral survey contains more than 300,000 place names. The objects concerned bear the names of forests, pastures and meadows, etc., have been named on the basis of earlier settlements, historic events, etc. The spelling of the objects in this category of geographic names is mostly based on the local dialect as opposed to the country’s official languages.  

The most frequently occurring place name in the German-speaking part of the country is «Allmend», which refers to a common agricultural property or the designation of such a property. Including its 35 linguistic and vernacular derivations and diminutives, it appears around 460 times in the dataset.  

 

 


Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
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+41 58 469 01 11

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Topography
Geodata Distribution
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Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern

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