But what is it called? Nomenclature 4.0 is here to help you!

Using the right terms is crucial for good museum documentation, the foundation for professional museum work. We have discussed this a couple of times in the past. Now I’m really happy that Nomenclature, the standard work for naming objects correctly in historical museums in the U.S. sees its fourth edition. Those of you who ever had to discuss with colleagues if it’s an adjustable spanner or a monkey wrench (which gets even worse in German where the same tool is called “Englishman” or “Frenchman” depending on the region in addition to about four “normal” terms) will know why having a controlled vocabulary is a blessing. I asked Jennifer Toelle to tell us a little more about the new edition:

nimnclatureNomenclature 4.0 is the most up-to-date print edition of one of North America’s most popular controlled vocabularies for classifying and naming objects in historical museums. Building on professional standards and a hierarchical structure introduced in the last edition, Nomenclature 4.0 features expanded coverage and revision by reflecting new research and contributions by museum professionals throughout the United States and Canada.

For over 35 years, Nomenclature has offered a practical, flexible framework to ensure museum documentation, retrieval and data sharing is more consistent. This system remains a standard cataloging tool for thousands of museums and historical organizations. Nomenclature serves museums by providing a system designed to consistently name objects and facilitate sharing information with staff and researchers, other institutions, and the public.

Nomenclature allows catalogers to assign names to the artifacts / objects within their collection consistently and accurately. Much like plants are grouped and categorized by family, genus and species, Nomenclature groups items in hierarchical levels based on object function. Thus, objects originally created to be used as toys or to carry on the activities of games, sports, gambling, or public entertainment are grouped in one category (Category 9: Recreational Objects) while those items originally created as expressions of human thought (for example, art, documents, religious objects,) are grouped in Category 8: Communication Objects.

The lexicon has ten categories covering all aspects of human-made objects ranging from Built Environment Objects, Furnishings, Personal Objects, Tools and Equipment for Materials, Tools and Equipment for Science and Technology, Tools and Equipment for Communication, Distribution and Transportation Objects, Communication Objects, Recreational Objects and Unclassifiable Objects. Each category is then divided into classifications and sub-classifications with Primary, Secondary and Tertiary object terms available to choose.

Catalogers in other countries beyond North America’s borders may find Nomenclature 4.0’s object terms useful in daily cataloging operations. It may be a useful reference tool supplementing already existing object terminology that may be incorporated into routine museum documentation practices.
Nomenclature 4.0 For Museum Cataloging includes:

  • An introductory essay featuring a Nomenclature users’ guide and a discussion of best cataloging practices
  • A list of more than 14,600 preferred object terms, organized according to a six-level classification hierarchy first introduced in Nomenclature 3.0
  • An alphabetical index of more than 16,900 preferred and non-preferred terms
  • A revised and updated users’ guide with new tips and advice
  • An expanded controlled vocabulary featuring nearly 950 new preferred terms
  • 475 more non-preferred terms in the index
  • An expanded and reorganized section on water transportation
  • Expanded coverage of exchange media, digital collections, electronic devices, archaeological and ethnographic objects, and more!
  • The content has been updated to accommodate cultural changes and evolving collections, making it easier to describe contemporary material culture as well as more traditional items.
  • Access to this up-to-date terminology ensures consistency of catalogued records and vastly improves the facilitation of sharing and retrieval of data.
  • This edition incorporates many new terms in direct response to recommendations made and needs expressed by colleagues “in the trenches” of collections and collection records management.

Connect with the Nomenclature Online Community!

Ordering Nomenclature 4.0

To order Nomenclature 4.0 For Museum Cataloging: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442250987

Jennifer Toelle works as the Registrar at the Smoky Hill Museum in Salina, Kansas, United States. Jennifer is a member of the American Association for State and Local History’s Nomenclature Task Force. For questions, please contact Jennifer at jennifer.toelle@salina.org


6 thoughts on “But what is it called? Nomenclature 4.0 is here to help you!”

  1. Any insight as to the improvements or additions for the archaeological and ethnographic lexicon in 4.0?

    The lack of specific terms other than unclassified object, which is everywhere in the data, is somewhat problematic when making catalog records for archaeological artifacts. For right now I have decided not to use Nomenclature for that reason but if the newer version has significant improvements in that area, I may consider giving it a go.

    1. Jennifer:
      My apologies for not realizing that you left this comment / question until now. Please email me at jennifer.toelle@salina.org
      I will connect you with the members of the task force that directly reviewed and included new terms to the lexicon in the areas of archaeological and ethnographic materials.
      Jennifer Toelle

  2. I already have 3.0 and really don’t have $115 to spend on the new version. Any thoughts on whether or not it’s worth buying the new edition? I suppose I could find someone to donate the funds but I’d rather spend it on archival supplies. Thanks for the update on the edition though.

    1. I guess it’s the big “depends”. If you are going to accession a huge new collection or if you are revising a lot of old data base entries (or bringing them from paper into computer) I’d buy the 4.0. If you don’t have much cataloguing on the plate and burning archival supply issues I guess the 3.0 will do for some time.

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    Do you have any specifics on the additional anthropological/archaeological/ethnographic additions to the nomenclature? I work at a natural history museum and one of our main issues is defining archaeological artifacts.


    Sarah Aisenbrey
    Dayton Society of Natural History, Dayton, Ohio

    1. Sarah:
      My apologies for not realizing that you left this comment / question until now. I’ll try to find your email address and so that I can connect you with the members of the task force that directly reviewed and included new terms to the lexicon in the areas of archaeological and ethnographic materials. Or feel free to email me at jennifer.toelle@salina.org
      Jennifer Toelle

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