What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. –Shakespeare

By Roger Childs

We live in New Zealand – the name of the country for over 370 years. But it’s hard to find the name used in the legacy media these days. I read in the newspaper yesterday morning that people had flocked to the Newtown Festival — one of the biggest in Aotearoa. Auckland airport has written on a wall Thank you for protecting Aotearoa. In last year’s election the Green Party wouldn’t use the name New Zealand, just Aotearoa. The April 2021 Navy Today magazine has AOTEAROA PASSES THE FUEL TEST as its cover story. And recently in a report on Mental Health I saw for the first time the clumsy word Aotearoans

The legacy media is pushing hard for the name change

Readers will be familiar with the weather girls on television calling our cities and islands by Maori names. At first they struggled with Whanganui a Tara and Otepoti etc … but now reel off the Te Reo names with smug satisfaction. I ponder about the wisdom of this – did Maori build the cities of Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and other towns?  

I don’t know of campaigns overseas to change the names of Sydney and Melbourne, Capetown and Port Elizabeth, New York and New Orleans. Here on the Kapiti Coast we have Maori names for all the settlements from Paekakariki to Otaki and people are happy with that. We Raumatians don’t want our area called Summer or even Raumati / Summer and further south in the village there is no agitation to call the place The Perching Place of the Green Parrot.

Origins of ‘Aotearoa

There seems to be no agreement on where the name originated. The pre-Treaty of Waitangi Maori had no concept of New Zealand as a nation but lived as scattered tribes which were often at war with one another. 

In 1835 there was the so called Declaration of Independence devised by British Resident James Busby. The He Tohu exhibition at the National Library in Wellington says this about the declaration: It was how rangatira (Maori leaders) told the world, back in 1835, that New Zealand was an independent Maori nation. That is nonsense – Busby wrote it; only two chiefs outside Northland signed it; it didn’t do anything and there was no such word as Maori at that time. However, it did give the British government something to react to and the follow up was Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

In the Treaty, ‘Nu Tirani’ was the Maori translation for New Zealand. One theory is that ethnologist, Stephenson Percy Smith in 1890 made up a name for New Zealand, Aotearoa, to go with his fictional tale of Kupe. Regardless of its origins, it has become the accepted Te Reo word for the country and features in the Maori version of the national anthem.

Let the people decide

New Zealand, Aotearoa / New Zealand or Aotearoa? A Newshub poll late last year saw 69% of respondents wanting New Zealand to remain as our name. Obviously the agitators for Aotearoa are worried that a referendum would not give then the outcome they want.

It seems that what is happening is change by stealth, and that we might suddenly have a Bill before Parliament changing the name as quickly as the right to challenge Maori wards in local government was legislated against in February. Let’s hope not.

This is too important a decision to be left to the politicians. We voted on the national flag so let’s have a referendum on the country’s name, live with the result and stop and smell the roses.