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When I query geoNames for its data, it typically returns the place name in two ways:

1) name and 2) toponymName

What is the difference between them?

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From the search documentation:

'name' and 'toponymName'

The response returns two name attributes. The 'name' attribute is a localized name, the preferred name in the language passed in the optional 'lang' parameter or the name that triggered the response in a 'startWith' search. The attribute 'toponymName' is the main name of the toponym as displayed on the google maps interface page or in the geoname file in the download. The 'name' attribute is derived from the alternate names.

So name has been localized based on the language parameter passed along with the query, and toponymName is the canonical name.

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