What is the Place Names Database?

The Place Names Database (KNAB) is a systematic computerized collection of data on geographical names from both Estonia and abroad that is being developed at the Institute of Estonian Language. Its purpose is to facilitate the study and standardization of geographical names by providing data on their history and modern use. It has been planned as a linguistically-oriented database, to enable to compile and prepare different gazetteers and dictionaries.


The beginning of the database goes back to 1988 when it started operating on mainframe computers. The first data entered were the street names of Estonia using the format of columns. In 1989 a more sophisticated and flexible text-based database structure was envisaged which continues to be used even nowadays, with many improvements. In 1990 there were already 26,000 records in the database but the transition to personal computers had negative effects because a part of the data was conserved on older tapes that could not be converted later. The actual work on the database started again in 1994 with the support of the Estonian Science Foundation; the presentation of different data elements was elaborated and old files updated. At the end of 1996 the database contained already 40,000 records or name articles including some 37,000 variant names. The foreign name files were the first to be integrated into one systematic collection; on the basis of the data a dictionary was published in 1999.

The integration of the Estonian place names data was finished in 2000 together with a systematic treatment of names of natural features, the project was supported again by the Estonian Science Foundation.

At the end of 2000 the Place Names Database KNAB contained 63,000 name articles (additionally 86,000 variant names in the articles) -- 41,000 Estonian places name articles (incl. 28,000 variant names) and 22,000 name articles of foreign countries (incl. 58,000 variant names). 32,000 Estonian place names are integrated into one territorially organized database excluding in principle any double records; the remainder constitute different map name lists or parts that are yet under processing (e.g. the list of roads). The Internet version contains only the integrated part of the database.

Structure of the database

A complete database record (name article) would contain information on the following items.

The Place Names Database may contain also the following information that is not given in the Internet version.

Actual content of the database

As the database has been compiled over a longer period of time, it is in many ways unproportional. In general the following categories of names may be outlined.

Place names of Estonia

  1. Street names were the first to be entered into the database. Various sources were used, including the names of streets mentioned in Soviet-time descriptions of electoral districts, telephone books, etc. In 1991 the Statistics Board sent out a questionnaire to establish all official street names. This made it possible to collect more or less completely all the street names at that time. A list of street names was compiled also by AS Regio for the census of 2000, its data have been included here also. At present the database contains some 8900 valid street names plus hundreds of historical names. Name variants used in the 20th century have been included, especially for historical cities; for Tallinn and Tartu the data goes back to even earlier centuries, thanks to the fundamental publications by Aleksander Kivi and Niina Raid [links here and in the following will give the full bibliographic entries of the sources]. The actual list of street names for Tallinn may be considered official and exhaustive, this being updated in cooperation with the name committee of Tallinn. Data for Tartu has been expanded also independently on the basis of maps, travel guides and reference books of the 19th century and name spellings from Estonian-language newspapers of that time. Among other cities of Estonia Haapsalu, Kuressaare and Narva have also been investigated more thoroughly.
  2. Although the names of institutions, companies and organizations are not strictly speaking toponyms, the data on these entities have also been collected at various times, mainly in the case of Tallinn and Tartu. The names of institutions of Tallinn date back often to the 1980's when the file was originally created; it has been only partially updated (schools, libraries, medical institutions, hotels), others (shops, cafes, etc.) are still outdated and contain the note "1980. aastad" ('the 1980's'). There are 1700 name articles on institutions in the database.
  3. The names of populated places in the database reflect the official status of each name, i.e. all official names have been verified. (The Place Names Database was used in fact to compile the official listing published in Riigi Teataja or the official gazette.) Additionally main sources from the 20th century (incl. maps) have been analyzed for the database: listing of populated places of the census 1970, populated places in the lists of village soviets in 1945, topographical maps of the 1930's (1 : 50,000, 1 : 200,000), names of populated places in the documents of the 1922 census, list of place names in the province of Estonia 1913 and names from the 1 : 42,000 map of the beginning of the 20th century. All listings have fully been incorporated into the database and the name forms related to modern features with coordinates, if applicable. In a few cases the names in sources have not been identified, these are in the database with a label HIST. From maps all names marked as those of populated places have been included.
  4. The place names of Petserimaa (Pechorskiy Kray) have been under special investigation and therefore name articles of that region contain more information than usual. In addition to maps and listings of the 1920's and 1930's also some archival sources were consulted, notably the plans for name changes at the end of the 1930's.
  5. The names of manor houses are given mainly on the basis of a list published in 1994 ("Eesti mõisad") but with later modifications and updatings. In 2008 the data were fully updated (with some names corrected also).
  6. The names of farms have earlier been added casually, since 2008 this is being conducted in a more systematic way, parish by parish.
  7. The list of names of administrative units has been compiled quite recently, where possible, it contains also earlier non-Estonian name variants.
  8. The names of natural features have been collected on the basis of several official or half-official listings but it has not yet been compared to the data on newest maps (esp. the Basic Map of 1 : 20,000) and also with the card index at the Institute of Estonian Language. Therefore they should be considered provisional only.

Place names of foreign countries

The data files for foreign place names have also been compiled from various sources (the listing of Estonian exonyms, place names annex to the Russian-Estonian dictionary, etc.) and is relatively less uniform than the Estonian collection. Place names from around Estonia are represented in larger numbers than those of other more distant areas. See a table to have an overview on the distribution of place names records country by country. The following name categories should be mentioned.

Important to know

The user of the database should also be aware of the following.

  1. This is not the official source of place names for Estonia giving the correct spellings of each name. The official status of names is reflected only in the case of names of populated places and street names of Tallinn. Official national place names register is being maintained by the Estonian Land Board.
  2. Although one of the final targets of the database is to provide linguistically sound and standardized name spellings, for many different reasons this is still not the case at present. Principal name forms given in the present output are therefore subject to further changes as new data will be gathered and entered.
  3. The place names database is being expanded and updated constantly. Some of the data included might be highly questionable, even erroneous. Still, it is believed that even with its present content the database may be utilised by critical users to get at least preliminary information on different place names.
  4. The user of the foreign place names data should be aware that any definition of names, national boundaries, etc. can not be viewed as the de iure recognition of the current situation. The database presents name spellings and other information for practical purposes only, reflecting mostly the actual situation. But the database does not refer to certain political entities as independent states if they are not internationally recognized (e.g. Nagornyy Karabakh, Northern Cyprus, Somaliland, etc.). In some other cases also it follows the guidelines accepted by the international community.