Change the names BACK

I do actually kind of love these kinds of stories.  See, despite white people settling themselves down in Aotearoa/NZ all those years ago and naming stuff after each other, it seems that the incredibly-creative “North Island” and “South Island” were never officially named as such.

So now the NZ Geographic Board, who have great form for innocently following procedure and stirring up white people’s privilege defence mechanisms, have suggested we official-ise the names – and maybe use Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Waipounamu instead, or in conjunction.

Cue the fucking whinging, and the incredibly bad reportage in the media.  3News hasn’t deigned to put the two-sentence blurb read out on last night’s broadcast onto their website, but their text article makes for some great close analysis:

The New Zealand Geographic Board (NZGB) has announced it will publicly consult on proposals to adopt new names for New Zealand’s two main islands.

Proposals to adopt new names. Because the names which the indigenous people of the country called something long before Whitey A said to Whitey B, “This one’s more north than the other one!  And that one’s more south!  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” are obviously new scary terrifying changey things!!! which will destroy our society and confuse our children.

(And because of course it’s far too inconvenient to note that Whitey A forgot to follow proper process while re-naming the land he was appropriating.)

I’m with marty mars on this one.  Use the names with provenance.  Use the names which mean something.  Use names which are undeniably New Zealand names.

And although the change is frightening, here’s a reassuring tale: a few generations back, one of my relatives was given the middle name Egmont.  And today I explain to people, “well the name Egmont came from the fact they were living near Taranaki.”  And if those people are under about 25?  I have to explain why that makes sense.


  1. weka

    I’d like to know what the provenance of Te Wai Pounamu is. Best I can find so far, which isn’t much, is this.

    “Possibilities for the South Island included Te Tumuki, which was the oldest recorded name, Te Arapaoa, Te Wai Pounamu and Te Waka o Aoraki.

    Darroch’s passion for the Maori language grew from his teenage years at a Maori boys’ school.

    He said he was 99.9 per cent sure the board would agree to recognise Te Wai Pounamu, as it was used on all the early charts. However, he was disappointed the Geographic Board had ruled out recognising Aotearoa for the North Island, due to it being too commonly known as the word for New Zealand.

    “In a free and democratic society, people have the right to know what is authentic and what is not, and Aotearoa is not authentic; it’s a colonial construct,” he said. “To me, they have culturally censored virtually 100 years of Maori literature.”

    Ngai Tahu kaiwhakahaere Mark Solomon said Te Waipounamu was the most commonly used Maori name for the South Island, but that did not preclude discussion on other names.

    “Place names are very important to Ngai Tahu. They are repositories of traditions and stories of the areas they represent.” ”

    Not sure if Te Wai Pounamu is a Kai Tahu name, or if it was more generally used.

        • QoT

          Well then you can google it yourself, can’t you? Since your first comment was “oh I can only find this one Stuff article” and I found the NZGB link within a minute of trying, I’m not reading a lot of sincerity here.

  2. V (verbscape)

    Currently, there are two sets of names in common usage – North & South, and Te Ika & Te Waipounamu. (At least, that is the set in most common usage among te reo speakers I am familiar with; your regional mileage may vary.) Neither set is official.

    So, says the Geographic Board, what’s say we formalise all four of them at the same time? Then both sets will be official!

    OMG CHANGE, cries the media, because they have the cognitive capacity of leeks and also like to stir up bigotry and strife ratings.

    OMG NO, screams Whitey McRedneckson. For if there are alternatives to English, then that means NO ONE CAN USE THE ENGLISH EVER AGAIN and that would be TERRIBLE and REVERSE RACISM and PC GONE MAD.

    And (while I acknowledge there are important differences between homophobia and racism) I can’t help but be reminded of Straightey McRedneckson screaming OMG NO for if there are GLBTI people allowed to get married then NO CISTRAIGHTS CAN EVER MARRY AGAIN and that would be TERRIBLE and REVERSE DISCRIMINATION and PC GONE MAD.

    Why does it seem like two-thirds of this country need to go back to preschool or kindergarten until they learn to fucking share?

    (Also worth noting: Stewart Island got its Māori name, Rakiura, formalised in 1998. The sky does not appear to have fallen in.)

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  4. Avocadocate

    I will be glad to see the names ‘North Island’ and ‘South Island’ gone soon. They really are just a stink of colonialist oppression.

    I hope for a day when the Maori names of all places are used, and the words ‘Auckland’ and ‘Christchurch’ and ‘Wellington’ are consigned to the dustbin of history.

  5. Pingback: Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Waipounamu are not second-class names | Ideologically Impure