For solving tag fragmentation - Which is better: old_name or was:name

Both keys are growing significantly. old_name and was:name are two keys that are commonly used interchangeably, to refer to the old / historic name of an object. However, there’s no consistency as to what key to use.

Quick TagInfo stats:
Taginfo shows old_name to be way more popular, however both tags continue on upward trajectories.

Which is better, in your opinion?

  • old_name
  • was:name
0 voters

Edit: This poll is very fragmented, with too many old_namers. If you’re happy with was:name, nice to meet you. I mean, still OK if you like old_name but I will smile big when I see another was:name’er


the historic name for something still existing (when a newer name is more common) should be recorded with old_name, was:name could be used for the name of a former thing (e.g. was:amenity=restaurant, was:name=the name of the restaurant that was there but is not any more), but I haven’t seen it ever, nor used myself.

Btw: even if was:name would be “better” as a synonym for old_name for some reason, it would have to be a very very compelling reason in order to break with the established practice, documented since at least 2009 and used 714k times compared to 11k for was:name. Generally we use what is mostly used, and if some people don’t, the result is a mess as with contact:phone, i.e. several tags for the same thing, it will never lead to cleaner tagging, only to more fragmentation (without any benefit, if the meaning is meant to be the same)


was:name is not picked up by Nominatim. Most likely due to the reason pointed out by @dieterdreist, that was: is a lifecycle prefix that indicates that something used to exist, but no longer does Key:was:* - OpenStreetMap Wiki*.


I would note that (nearly) all objects in OSM have their history recorded and available, trying to replicate that with tags is patently silly. And if it wasn’t, was:was:xxx and was:was:was:xxx etc (or maybe was^100:xxx), would be just as justified.

If the name is still known and used, just not the common name, use old_name. was: is an abomination that obviously should never be used.


old_name= and was:*= can be used slightly differently.

name=DEF Cafe
old_name=ABC Cafe
was:name=XYZ Restaurant

In this case, they aren’t interchangeable. was:name= refers to a further previous status. Don’t use old_name=XYZ Restaurant on it either, as the existing cafe is never named this.
was:*= is mostly for reference, not for end use. This is more so than others abandoned:*= etc. They are best for storing 1 stage only. That’s limit to mix-ups and confusions.


That’s an interesting idea, but I strongly suspect that old_name=* is a mix of both in practice. It’s probably OK given the low stakes.

All around my city there are ghost signs for all sorts of shops. As you’ve come to expect by now, I’ve already mapped this butcher and pizza parlor in OpenHistoricalMap, but the ghost signs are enough reason for me to leave a semicolon-delimited old_name=* tag in OSM. Besides, historians call this shop=vacant the former State Meat Market while laypeople call it the old 4th Street Pizza Company, and they’ll probably continue to do so even after its owner finds a new tenant. (The pizza was that good.)

Admittedly, it’s awkward that old_name=* might relate to a was:*=* or disused:*=* or demolished:*=* feature tag, but this seems like a rather academic problem to me. It reminds me of how, after I tagged Berlin with its dated Vietnamese translation as old_name:vi=Bá Linh, someone retagged it as name:vi-old=Bá Linh. After all, it’s technically the old translation of the current name, not the current translation of the old name. :man_facepalming:

I think old_name is better. It is more established and is immediately meaningful.

If the name has changed several times, you can use:


“_” is much more searchable than “?”, which is a wildcard.

1 Like

Talk:Key:old name - OpenStreetMap Wiki I have once pointed out this is a conflict with the meaning of the date suffix. old_name:2012= would mean the old_name= in 2012. This is not the same as was:name= in-2012 You should simply use name:2012= to mean the naming in that year.

Seems as if I’m going to have to propose a bulk edit to remove all was:* tagging.

1 Like

No way! Why?

This poll is now closed.

The final results: All except me chose old_name. I am now officially OSM-sad (lol)