Restructure wiki page key:name?

Names are a fundamental concept of language. Their use is so commonplace that we are not even aware of their many meanings. So it seems hardly surprising that the restriction of the key “name” to proper names is so often overlooked in OSM.

In the wiki, two articles deal with the name: the main article names and the key definition key:name. Both articles are very extensive with 29k characters and 18k characters respectively. The readability is not good due to the length alone, whereby the main article - despite its greater length - actually performs better because it is clearer and more consistent in its core statements.

Do you really need so many words to understand the principle, couldn’t it be shorter? I think so, the essentials should be able to be summarised on 1-2 screen pages.

The two articles are then no longer independent of each other, but complement each other. The article “key:name” briefly and concisely describes the essentials, while the main article names describes the precise overall picture in all its facets.

Issues key:name

Readability, redundancy, clarity.
For details see my blog post.



  • Focus article key:name on the essentials,
    maximum text volume 1 to 2 screen pages
  • Intensive integration of the main article by means of references
  • Pay attention to translatability


Change to the scope of meaning of the key “name”, neither restricting nor expanding. Reference is the main article names.


The implementation via the discussion page of key:name has failed - too few participants and too little support. The discussion here is intended to show a broader picture of opinions about the readability of the key:name article.

If opinions are in favour of restructuring, the next step will be to work out the text. This text proposal should give you an idea of the goal.

… and you?

What is your opinion: do you think the proposed restructuring makes sense?


For start, reworking this page seems to be a good idea and I appreciate energy put into this. But I would split changes to the definition of such important tag from changes to structure. Can we do one of them one at time rather than packaging them together?

I have doubts about changing “The primary name” to “The proper name”.

“proper name” can be misunderstood as overriding on the ground principle and with “proper” understood as “according to my nation/group/religion/state/leader”. But I am not a native speaker. On the other hand, many people reading this are not native speakers and most will not be familiar with “proper name” as a technical term in philosophy of language terms.

If various advise is removed from proposed new version such as

Sometimes these sources disagree: a single feature may be known by a different name to different people or in different places. In case of doubt, OpenStreetMap favours the situation “on the ground”. For example, the primary name of a disputed territory would match the usage of the side that has on-the-ground control of the territory.[1] However, the on-the-ground rule is not absolute; you may need to use common sense:

then it should at least remain findable. Key:name - OpenStreetMap Wiki seems to not have it even linked (have I missed it?).

  • Official truth - proper names as part of laws, ordinances and decrees

listing this should also clearly state that official names often go into official_name not name tag. People already often put official names not used in practice into name rather than official_name and this can easily confuse them into thinking that it is a proper tagging.

I appreciate your attempt to bring more clarity to this part of the wiki. That said, I’m not sure this proposed discussion about “proper names” will head off the sort of confusion you seem to be concerned about:

Proper names are a constant naming of certain individuals such as persons, places, streets, rivers, etc. Proper names do not appear out of nowhere, but often evolve from descriptions. The transition is completed by constant naming in independent sources. Proper names are only unique in the usual context: “The Red Lion” pub in the quarter, “Main Street” in the town, “Mary’s Wool Room” in the district, etc. In larger contexts, additions are often necessary for uniqueness. These are not part of the proper name.

The reference to independent sources reminds me of the sourcing standards in Wikipedia. While this may be a useful tool for resolving disputes, most named features on the map don’t need anywhere near that level of rigor. If a sign on a building says the building’s name, that’s often quite enough, despite coming from a primary source. Sometimes these names do indeed “appear out of nowhere”, and they can include elements that distinguish them from similar features.

Given your astute observation that variant keys such as loc_name deserve dedicated articles, the most helpful guidance this page could provide would be about how to choose a primary proper name, if you will, from multiple candidates, and where the other proper names should go. Almost everything else could be consolidated into the main “Names” page.

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I agree about the intent, the goals and means you mention @Robhubi.

I have to fix around 5 names per week in the relatively small area I work within, directly related to the documentation issue examples you cite.

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It makes little sense to work on the text if the objective is up for discussion.

That’s not quite right. In principle, it is about replacing “name” with “proper name”. If “primary” is used in the context of “the more important of several”, the replacement is “primary proper name” (see my blog, Issues 3rd example), otherwise primary is omitted.

My goodness, this direction is not intended, on the contrary, it is intended to make it easier for the mapper. For questions like Clarification is required:
There are constant debates in my neighborhood about what is a name
are not answered despite (or because of) an 18k-character article, then something is wrong.

My approach is: as soon as you have understood the term proper name, the tag name is easy to set for most features on the map. All that is needed is a clarification of the term.

However, this does not solve all the issues, as the name-like descriptions still cause difficulties. Because proper names often arise from descriptions, the classification " still a description" or “already a name” is not always clear. The process description of how a name can arise, from which you quoted the “independet sources”, should also contribute to understanding.

It’s interesting that you mention the multiple proper names. Do you often see issues with this? In my region (Austria), I have only encountered a problem with multiple proper names once. I see problems much more frequently with name=“descriptive name” (e.g. “Billa Parkplatz” / “Tesco Car Park”) and name=“common noun” (e.g. “Toilette”/“Toilet”).

Sure, I see this too. But if we aren’t careful about how we use the term “proper name”, we trade one problem for another. alt_name and official_name can also contain a proper name. The difference is that name contains the primary name among all the proper names that a feature has. It would be just as bad if we set alt_name to “Toilette”. This happens sometimes already to some extent, but it would happen more often if we remove the word “primary”, the very thing that distinguishes name from all the other name keys.

I agree that everything else on the page is redundant to the main “Names” feature page and should be moved there.

By the way, the term “proper name” has two senses. You’ve chosen the sense in philosophy, which is very obscure compared to the sense from grammar and linguistics. In English, “proper noun” is more common, but some elementary school curriculums prefer “proper name”. This is potentially confusing for anyone who chooses the key based on a brief summary rather than your full definition. It’s even worse for native speakers of Romance languages like Spanish and French, in which the most common word for a proper noun literally means “proper name”.

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Resumé of opinions on restructuring wiki page key:name

Summary of opinions from talk: key:name, blog post and the discussion here:

Contributor Consent
GreyTK yes
Mateusz_Konieczny none
osmuser63783 yes
gileri yes
Minh_Nguyen yes

I would ask the contributors to correct me if I have interpreted their consent incorrectly.

The result is in favour of the proposed restructuring. I will incorporate the ideas put forward in this discussion into the text and put it up for discussion. I will post the link to the text here.

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Are you planning to also make any changes to the main “Names” page? Some of what you plan to remove from the name page would be relevant there.

No information should be lost - so in principle yes, but as the main article “Names” is so extensive, this will be very limited.

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It might make sense for the page for Key:name to mention that the key can contain more than one name in multilingual areas, separated by slashes or dashes. For example, streets in Brussels or international water bodies such as the Caspian Sea.

This is mentioned on the “Names” page under “Multiple names” but it’s specifically about the name tag so why not put it on the name page too.

I think there’s a misconception that name should only contain the name of a feature that is the most “correct” historically or politically, and this misconception is causing a lot of friction, see some recent discussions on what the name tag of specific features should be. (In reality I think we mostly use it for whatever is signed, and in the absence of that, for whatever most people actually call the feature)

Emphasising that name is only to be used for proper names may help discourage name=Toilets, but it could also lead to more misunderstandings where people argue about who is using the “proper” as in correct name for some object.

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Please help me to understand your post, do you want to

  1. express no agreement with the objectives of the restructuring or
  2. make a suggestion about the text

I agree with your changes but I suggest that some of the stuff here, about multiple names in different languages in the name tag, (also) belongs on the Key:name page.

Thanks to all contributors. The revised text and the page for discussion of the text is here. Contributions to the text are welcome.

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