The Nomenclature Affinity Community

Robert G. Chenhall’s nomenclature for classifying man-made objects is the standard cataloging tool for thousands of museums and historical organizations across the United States and Canada. Nomenclature’s lexicon of object names, arranged hierarchically within functionally defined categories, has become a de facto standard within the community of history museums in North America.

An AASLH task force monitors this community to promote and assist with the adoption of Nomenclature 4.0 and to keep Nomenclature the industry standard, responsive to the needs of the profession.



The following committee manages AASLH’s Nomenclature-related work and initiatives:

Paul Bourcier, Chair
Museum of Science & History, Jacksonville, FL

Kathy Barton
Yellowstone County Museum, Billings, MT

Kathleen Byrne
National Park Service, Harpers Ferry, WV

Rosemary Campbell
Independent Museum Professional, Ottawa, Ontario

Heather Dunn
Canadian Heritage Information Network, Gatineau, Quebec

John Hart, Jr.
Sullivan Museum and History Center, Northfield, VT

Ron Kley
Museum Research Associates, Hallowell, ME

Jennifer Toelle
Smoky Hill Museum, Salina, KS

Jean-Luc Vincent
Parks Canada, Gatineau, Quebec

Nomenclature Resources

Read our blog.

Looking for more? Browse through Nomenclature resources in the AASLH Resource Library.

What is Nomenclature?

Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging is an updated and expanded edition of Robert G. Chenhall’s system for classifying man-made objects, originally published in 1978. The Chenhall system is the standard cataloging tool for thousands of museums and historical organizations across the United States and Canada. For this fourth edition, hundreds of new terms have been added, and every category, class, sub-class, and object term has been reviewed and revised as needed by a professional task force appointed by the American Association for State and Local History.

This new edition features crucial revisions including:

  • 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

Why should I use it?

Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging is a structured and controlled list of object terms organized in a classification system to provide a basis for indexing and cataloging collections of human-made artifacts. It was developed for people responsible for the creation and management of museum collection records and is based on three fundamental assumptions relating to the usefulness of catalog records for research, collection management, and exhibition planning:

  1. Catalog records are most useful if objects are named consistently;
  2. Creating functionally defined groupings of catalog records in a hierarchical format makes it easier to work with record groups; and
  3. Consistently cataloged records facilitate the sharing of data with researchers, other museums, and the public at large.

Nomenclature is built into the lexicons of many vendor-supported museum collections management systems, but it can also be a useful tool for museums with homemade databases and even for museums without computerized cataloging systems.

What does Nomenclature do?

Nomenclature 4.0 provides an extensive list of object terms based on the collections of many museums, and it relates each object term to others within a hierarchical taxonomy based on the object’s functional context.

Nomenclature 4.0 includes thousands of terms, and it is greatly expanded from the last edition, The Revised Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging, published in 1988. However, it does not and should not include all possible names for all possible museum artifacts. It is important to recognize that Nomenclature will not include all the terms any given museum needs, and that it will not be suitable for all purposes. Instead, Nomenclature provides a practical, flexible framework that has been used successfully by thousands of museums for more than three decades.

Because Nomenclature does not include all possible terms, some museums may need to expand the list of terms in order to express the finer points of distinction among similar but subtly different objects. Nomenclature is flexible, and the Nomenclature Committee encourages museums with similar specialized collections to collaborate in compiling lists of specialized terms as the need arises. As long as new terms are added within the Nomenclature framework, the reasons for adding the terms are documented, and the additions are made only after careful consideration, Nomenclature will function just fine.

Bear in mind that Nomenclature establishes a convention for object names only. It is important to consider other standardized vocabularies for other useful pieces of data about museum objects and their characteristics, including materials, styles, design elements, geographic origins, manufacturing techniques, personal and corporate names, and related subjects and concepts. When considering new object terms, it is important to avoid using words that may belong in other fields of an object’s catalog record such as “plastic,” “wrought,” “Civil War,” or “suffrage.” Computerized databases allow users to query multiple fields to narrow searches for artifacts that meet specific criteria.

Object terms in Nomenclature are indexing terms intended to facilitate data retrieval. They are not substitutes for fuller descriptions that may be useful for inventories, exhibition labels, catalog captions, or other applications. “Chair, Rocking” is a legitimate object term for Nomenclature, but “Chair, Victorian, walnut, with green needlework cushion” is not.

There are many useful books and online resources for learning more about data standards that apply to museum collections, including material developed and distributed by the Museum Computer Network, the Canadian Heritage Information Network, and the American Library Association (particularly its manual, Cataloging Cultural Objects: A Guide to Describing Cultural Works and Their Images).

(Table of Contents for Nomenclature 4.0 for Museum Cataloging by Paul Bourcier, Heather Dunn, and the Nomenclature Task Force, 2014)

An Introduction to Nomenclature 4.0
Nomenclature Users’ Guide

Category 1: Built Environment Objects
Category 2: Furnishings
Category 3: Personal Objects
Category 4: Tools and Equipment for Materials
Category 5: Tools and Equipment for Science and Technology
Category 6: Tools and Equipment for Communication
Category 7: Distribution and Transportation Objects
Category 8: Communication Objects
Category 9: Recreational Objects
Category 10: Unclassifiable Objects
Alphabetical Index of Object Terms

Suggest Nomenclature Additions/Changes/Updates

The Nomenclature Task Force will carefully vet all submissions for use in the next version of Nomenclature.

Please submit suggestions through the appropriate form below.

Only one submission is allowed per form but you may enter additional forms if you would like to recommend multiple updates.

> Add a new term

> Add a non-preferred term

> Add/Change a note for a term

> Change the definition of a category

> Change the definition of a classification

> Change the definition of a sub-class

> Change the status of a term

> Move a term

> Change the spelling/punctuation

Despite the Task Force’s best efforts, Nomenclature 3.0 and 4.0 do contain some errors of which users should be aware. We encourage users to mark their books to make necessary corrections.

Nomenclature 4.0 Errata

“Boat, Rangely” (p. 488, 545) should read “Guideboat, Rangeley”

“box, baling (use: Bailer, Well)” (p. 549) should read “box, bailing (use: Bailer, Well)”

“Gluepot” from Woodworking T&E (p. 251) to Multiple Use T&E for Materials (p. 227)

“Goschen” (p. 488, 602) should read “Groschen”

“Heater, Convention” (p. 9, 610) should read “Heater, Convection”

“killik (use Anchor)” (p. 621) should read “killick (use Anchor)”

“Loom, Weight” (p. 244, 719) should be deleted.  The preferred term is “Loomweight” (p. 242) as noted on p. 719.

“Machine, Brading” (p. 213, 630) should read “Machine, Bradding”

“piece, ten-cent (use: Dime, Half)” (p. 651) should read “piece, ten-cent (use: Dime)”

“(use: Porte-Cochere)” (p. 658) should read “(use: Porte-Cochère)”

“Pot, Glue” (p. 386) from Printer T&E to a non-preferred form of “Gluepot” (now Multiple Use T&E for Materials (p. 227)

“Software, Multifunction System” (p. 360, 688) should read “Software, Multifunction”

“Sous Marqué” (p. 488, 688) should read Sou Marqué”

“spade, folding” (p. 688) is listed twice and should be listed only once

“Topper, Barrel” (p. 259) should be deleted. The index entry for “Topper, Barrel” (p. 708) should read “topper, barrel (use: Plane, Sun)”

“Violoncello” (p. 373) to a non-preferred form of “Cello” (p. 373)

A number of non-preferred terms were omitted from pages 529-532 of the Index. For a list of these terms, please click here.

Nomenclature 3.0 Errata

The Nomenclature Task Force has corrected these errors in Nomenclature 4.0 and will update this page if additional errata are found.

The note for Apparatus, Breathing (p. 81) should read “respiratory,” not “repiratory.”

“Bag. Lunch” (p. 145) should be changed to “Bag, Lunch” (with a comma, not a period). Because of this typo, the term appears out of alphabetical order in the index (p. 448).

“Block,Construction” (p. 461) should be “Block, Construction”. The error causes the term to appear out of order in the index. The term appears correctly on p. 2.

The note for Case, Audio Equipment (p. 325) should read “item,” not “iitem.”

The note for Case, Public Entertainment (p. 418) should read “Entertainment,” not “Entertaiment.”

The note for Case, Visual Communication Equipment (p. 332) should read “item,” not “iitem.”

“Colotype” (pp. 391, 501) should be changed to “Calotype.”

“copier, xerogrpahic” (p. 506) should read “copier, xerographic.”

“Crusher. Seed” (p. 131) should be changed to “Crusher, Seed” (with a comma, not a period). Because of this typo, the term appears out of alphabetical order in the index (p. 511).

“Cup, Pallette” (pp. 191, 512) should be changed to “Cup, Palette.”

“Cutter, Sprue” under Armament Accessories should be eliminated (pp. 227, 514). The term was moved to Metalworking T&E but the old Revised Nomenclature classification was not removed; this created two identical terms in the book, and identical terms are no longer permitted.

“Dessicator” (pp. 248, 517) should read “Desiccator.”

Dessicator, Balance” (pp. 285, 517) should read “Desiccator, Balance.”

“Dish, Sherbert” (pp. 142, 520) should be changed to “Dish, Sherbet.”

The definition of Drafting T&E (p. 306) should read “equipment and,” not “equipmentand.”

“Dress, Redingdote” (pp. 71, 524) should be changed to “Dress, Redingote.”

The note for Fairing (p. 397) should read “knickknack,” not “knicknack.”

“Flask, Distilling” (p. 247) contains a typo; “Distlling” should be changed to “Distilling”

“Heater, Convention” (p. 6, 557) should read “Heater, Convection.”

“hoe, planation” (p. 558) should read “hoe, plantation.”

“Instrument, Meteorlogical” (pp. 284, 567) should be changed to “Instrument, Meteorological.”  (The same misspelling applies to this term’s note on p. 284.)

“Knife, Callous” (pp. 90, 574) should be changed to “Knife, Callus.”

The preferred term for knife, corn (p. 574) should read “Knife, Callus,” not “Knife, Callous.”

“Light, Holiday” should be moved to be a secondary term under “Decoration, Holiday.”

“Light, Christmas Tree” should be moved to be a tertiary term under “Light, Holiday” (all p. 381).

“Loop, Mast” (pp. 365, 584) should be changed to “Hoop, Mast.”

“Machine, Electrotheraphy” (pp. 280, 586) should read “Machine, Electrotherapy.”

The definition of Masonry & Stoneworking T&E (p. 166) should read “homogeneity,” not “homegeneity.”

“Pad, Horsehoe” (pp. 109, 607) should be changed to “Pad, Horseshoe.”

“Pestle, Pharmeutical” (pp. 273, 613) should be changed to “Pestle, Pharmaceutical.”

The definition of Photographic T&E (p. 315) should read “originally,” not “orginally.”

The definition of Photoprocessing Equipment (p. 319) should read “sensitive,” not “sensitve.”

“Pick, Hors d’Oeurve” (p. 144) should be changed to “Pick, Hors d’Oeuvre.” The term is spelled correctly in the index (p. 614).

“Radiophone” under Acoustical T&E should be eliminated (pp. 222, 634). The term was listed twice in Revised Nomenclature, but it should only be organized under Telecommunication Devices. It is erroneously listed twice in the book.

The note for Seeder, Centrifugal (p. 103) should read “centrifugal,” not “cenrifugal.”

“Shirt, Poodle” (pp. 145, 660) should be changed to “Skirt, Poodle.”

The preferred term for showcase (p. 661) should read “Case, Display,” not “case, display.”

“Stand, Blackmsith’s” (pp. 180, 673) should be changed to “Stand, Blacksmith’s.”

The term “Stove” (pp. 54, 678) should be eliminated. The last five secondary terms on page 54 are child terms of “Stove, Heating.”

“Table” was inadvertently left out of the book. It should be a primary term at the top of page 40 and included in the index on page 683. All the secondary table terms on pages 40-41 should be organized under it.

The definition of Telecommunication Media (p. 331) should read “Definition,” not “Defintion.”

“Tester, Babock” (pp. 134, 688) should be changed to “Tester, Babcock.”

The definition of Textileworking T&E (p. 195) should read “preparation,” not “prepartion.”

The definition of Timekeeping T&E (p. 296) should read “purposes,” not “puposes.”

“Vargueños” should be spelled “Vargueño” (pp. 38, 706).

“Vise, Harnessmaker’s” (pp. 166, 708) should be changed to “Vise, Harness Maker’s.”


Preferred Terms:

The preferred term for “cutter, nail” should be “Nipper, Toenail,” not “Nipper, Toe Nail” (p. 514).

The preferred term for “cutting, scissor” should be “Work, Cut Paper,” not “Work, Cut-Paper” (p. 515).

The preferred term for “plate, wiredrawing” should be “Die, Wire Drawing,” not “Die, Wiredrawing” (p. 621).

The preferred term for “printer, matrix” should be “Printer, Dot Matrix,” not “Printer, Dot-Matrix” (p. 628).

The preferred term for “truck, ladder” should be “Truck, Hook and Ladder,” not “Truck, Hook & Ladder” (p. 701).


Stray Words:

The stray word “Equipment” in the Notes column on p. 227 should be eliminated.


The following terms are listed out of alphabetical order relative to their sibling terms in the hierarchical portion of the book:

“Gutter,” “Head, Shower,” and “Heater, Water” (p. 9)

“Barrack” (p. 22)

“Coverlet” (p. 29)

“Glove, Driving” (p.62)

“Sari” and “Sarong” (p. 74; should be on p. 73)

“Apron, Cocktail” (p. 77)

“Teddy” (p. 78)

“Case, Card” (p. 85)

“Scraper, Tongue” (p. 93)

“Poacher, Egg” (p. 119)

“Pan, Comfit” (p. 121; should be on p. 120)

“Fork, Berry” (p. 143)

“Tool, Well Fishing” (p. 188; should be on p. 189)

“Phono-Projectoscope” (p. 221)

“Point, Projectile” (p. 235)

“Cleaner, Lamp Chimney” (p. 260; should be on p. 261)

“Wash-Pounder” (p. 263)

“Clamp” (p. 264)

“Slitter, Crown” (p. 271)

“Detector, Neutron” (p. 285)

“Software, Multifunction” (p. 302)

“Machine, Teaching” (p. 303)

“Triangle, Adjustable” (p. 308)

“T-Square” (p. 308)

“Burnisher, Printmaking” (p. 321)

“Needle, Etching” and “Echoppe” (p. 321)

“Perforator, Printing” (p. 323)

“Recorder, Audio Disk” (p. 327)

“Cart, Projector” (p. 332)

“Wheel, Vehicle Steering” (p. 348)

“Schooner, Prairie” (p. 354)

“Truck, Pumper/Aerial Ladder” (p. 358)

“Print, Planographic” (p. 392)

“Gear, Pole Vault” (p. 429)