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Graeme Blick gave the Viewpoint tonight. He said,

'There has been a lot of debate in recent years about place names in New Zealand and more recently over the use of the name Aotearoa for New Zealand. But what’s in a place name? 

'Place-names form an important part of a country’s history and heritage, as well as its culture and language.

'In New Zealand, most place names have Māori or British origins with names often being used to commemorate notable people, events, places from their homeland, or to describe significant physical characteristics of the surrounding land or sea.

'Dutch cartographers initially named the islands Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland. By the time of British exploration, the country's name was anglicised to New Zealand.

'There was no known pre-European Māori name for New Zealand although commonly, until the early 20th century, Māori from the south referred to the North Island as Aotearoa (commonly translated as 'long white cloud') and in modern Māori usage, this has been popularised as the name for the whole country. 

'Māori had several names for the North and South Islands, including Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui) for the North Island and Te Waipounamu (the waters of greenstone) and Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki) for the South Island. 

'The North and South Island names arose through common usage rather than an official declaration and in 2009 it was revealed that they had never been made official.  In 2013, alternative names were formalised for the two main islands, as North Island or Te Ika-a-Māui, and South Island or Te Waipounamu, with either the English or Māori name being used or a combination of both.

'Many Māori place names have either historical or mythological significance. Early Māori explorers such as Kupe, like many later European explorers, named many features after themselves, their family members, events that occurred at the locations, and places from their homelands. For example, the Māori name for Wellington Harbour, Te Whanganui a Tara (the great harbour of Tara), derives from Tara, a grandson of Kupe and ancestor of several local iwi.  

'In 1924 the New Zealand Geographic Board was established and today sits within Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand, and has powers to change or assign Māori and English place names in New Zealand, its continental shelf and the Ross Dependency of Antarctica. 

'The Geographic Board has a statutory function to encourage the use of original Māori place names and has given some places official dual and alternative names. Alternative names are where one or more names can be used officially (for example Whanganui or Wanganui) or dual names where both names are to be used together (for example Matiu/Somes Island). 

'In 1998, as a result of the settling of the Ngāi Tahu Treaty claim, New Zealand's tallest mountain was officially named Aoraki/Mount Cook. There are also a few English dual names, for example, Wellington Harbour is officially Wellington Harbour (Port Nicholson). 

'Many European names, often replacing existing Māori names, came during the 1840s to 1910s, and were given by early surveyors such as Charles Heaphy, Julius von Haast, and Thomas Brunner, who worked for colonising companies or provincial governments. Names acknowledged the colonising company sponsors (Hutt Valley, Ashburton), government officials (Featherston, Invercargill), politicians (Foxton, Gisborne) and church leaders (Selwyn). 

'Many of New Zealand's place names have never been officially approved by the Geographic Board. These unofficial recorded names are names that appear in authoritative publications such as maps and charts. Unofficial recorded names include major cities (Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch), mountains (Mount Tasman), islands (the Auckland Islands, Great Barrier Island) and many other geographical features. The Geographic Board is currently working on a six-year programme to make these recorded names official through a fast track process.

'In Antarctica, place-naming has to some extent become a political issue as many countries race to assert a presence there. This has led to many features having multiple names assigned by different countries. As New Zealand continues its science activities in the Ross Dependency, place naming is an important marker of our role and authority over a territorial area that we share with many other nations. In doing so, we consult with other countries operating in the area such as the US.  Any assigned place names must have a connection to Antarctica. For example in 2000 the Geographic Board named a feature close to the site of the Air NZ DC10 crash on Mount Erebus, Te Puna Roimata Peak, meaning ‘spring of tears’. 

'So my Point of View – Place names tell us much about a country’s history and we should seek to understand and embrace this important part of our country’s heritage.'

New Zealand Place Names - 13 July 2021

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