Introducting Nomenclature 3.0

Introducing Nomenclature 3.0

Nomenclature 3.0 for Museum Cataloging is a structured and controlled list of 13,700+ object terms organized in a hierarchical classification system. A museum standard since 1978, it provides a way to index and catalog collections of human-made artifacts based on their function.

The lexicon has ten categories which are divided into classifications and sub-classifications and then divided into object terms, as seen in the examples below:
Tools & Equipment for Materials |Agricultural T&E| Cultivation Equipment |Mattock
Personal Artifacts|Clothing|Clothing Accessories|Dickey
Tools & Equipment for Science & Technology|Mechanical T&E| Mechanical Devices|Clamp
Communication Artifacts|Ceremonial Artifacts|Religious Objects|Altar

By using Nomenclature, catalogers can assign unique names to the artifacts in their collection consistently and accurately, make recording, retrieving, and sharing collection data easier.

How Does Nomenclature 3.0 Differ from Previous Editions?
New & Updated Terms The latest revision includes 5,000+ new object terms, contributed by over 75 institutions across Canada and the United States. Not only have past omissions been remedied (e.g., television, ski pole), but many terms have been added to reflect changing technology in the 20 years since the second edition was published (e.g., mouse pad, laptop computer).

Definitions Definitions for categories, classifications, and sub-classifications have been expanded and refined. Rather than being buried in an introductory chapter, they are now placed immediately before their list of associated terms.
Additional Hierarchical Levels Previously, there were three levels of organization. Now many classifications and terms can be further differentiated. For instance, where before the term “Cap” was used for several types of similarly structured head gear, it can now be defined by primary, secondary, and tertiary object terms:
Cap|Cap, Sport| Cap, Jockey
Cap|Cap, Sport|Cap, Baseball
Cap|Cap, Military| Kepi

Grouping of Similar Terms Before, terms like “Chair, Potty” and “Highchair” were listed alphabetically in the lexicon, separate from one another. Nomenclature 3.0 has positioned them as tertiary terms grouped under the new secondary term “Chair, Child’s,” which is organized under the primary object term “Chair.” This hierarchical arrangement allows for artifact searches to be as broad or refined as necessary.

Unique Terms Special effort was made to ensure that every term was unique, thus avoiding the confusion of having the same term listed under multiple classifications. Previously, “Mortar” was listed under food processing, in chemical and medical manufacturing, and under artillery armament. Now generic terms have been modified to better reflect their classifications (e.g., “Mortar, Grain,” “Mortar, Artillery”).

How Can a Museum Adapt Nomenclature 3.0 to Suit Their Own Needs?

While museums with specialized collections will appreciate the level of specificity they can achieve when cataloging, not all institutions will require this level of naming. Catalogers with a collection of carpenter’s planes may decide to use only the primary object term “Plane,” or they may differentiate further between “Plane, Leveling” and “Plane, Grooving.”

The lexicon does not include all possible names for all possible museum artifacts. Rather than clutter Nomenclature 3.0 with multiple terms for instrument cases (e.g., “Case, Clarinet,” “Case, Trumpet”), the generic term “Case, Musical Instrument” is provided. Institutions with an extensive instrument collection can add specialized cases as secondary terms under the generic primary term.

How Can You Find out More About Nomenclature 3.0?

As a way to introduce Nomenclature 3.0 to the museum public, an online community has been established at There visitors can find a tutorial explaining the changes found in the third edition and keep up with the news on such issues as the lexicon’s adoption by software vendors, upcoming presentations, etc. Users can also query experts about the proper name for an object, propose new terms, and find recent updates to the lexicon.

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