This is intended to be a place to discuss place names in Gramps.
Work already done
There is an existing ISO (ISO-3166) that is used as the baseline for geonames. This provides general guidance for abbreviations (eg 2 or 3 character codes, the US 'fips' definitions) for countries.
There are still some confusions in the list - eg, the United Kingdom/Great Britain tangle.
You can see the list at http://www.geonames.org/countries/
When we think about places, we tend to think of them in our own situation. So, I might live at 135 Copley Place, Beverley Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA. (I don't). I think of them, in order, as Address, Suburb, City, State and Country. Other places use different nomenclature - county, province, prefecture, arondisment...to name just a few.
In the world of databases, parsing an address like the one above would be most inefficient - if it could be done at all. It is better to use the database and its strengths to assist us.
So, I would prefer to think of all those geographic descriptors as "levels", starting with the country (we can all agree on that, I think) as the base level - Level 0 - and then moving on to Level 1 etc. Having defined our Level 0, all Level 1s are therefore sub-ordinate to it. You can, of course, have as many 'Level 0's as you need.
So the computer application will think in reverse to us, preferring to start with a country, then finding the names of the places sub-ordinate to it, and so on. Accordingly, the database setup needs to reflect this. As an example:
|25||8||4||135 Copley Place||W118.4224||N34.0767|
Other places in Los Angeles would "share" the first 3 rows in the table, but then start a new branch.
A well-designed database could derive from a GEDCOM using the correct structure:
0 INDI @987@
2 DATE 23 JUN 1967
2 PLAC Beverley Hills, Califirnia, USA
4 LATI N34.05
4 LONG 118.230
but in practical use, the last 3 lines can be left out, and the 2 PLAC information linked to a lookup "places" table to prevent bloating the GEEDCOM with repeat information.
If there is a problem with this, it is that you might need to edit all the geonames in your family file. The strength of the process depends on strict adherence (and identical spelling) to the table structure.
Old place names
If you are going to add Google maps with references from, say, geonames.org, then the old names for places won't be found. The easiest solution to this is to add the old names as notes, but map them with their current names.
There is an interesting forum at http://groups.google.com.au/group/geonames?lnk=sg