Apr 13, 2021


Maori News & Indigenous Views

Shock discovery leads to public consultation on re-naming the North & South Islands

3 min read

There is to be a public consultation to name New Zealand’s two main islands, after a shock discovery that ‘North Island’ and ‘South Island’ were never official.

The New Zealand Geographic Board is looking to formalise the currently used and recorded English names for the North and South Islands of New Zealand (North Island and South Island), as well as considering official alternative Maori names.

The Board consulted with iwi throughout the country beginning in 2009 and determined that the most appropriate Maori names for the islands are Te Ika-a-Maui The Fish of Maui, for the North Island, and Te Waipounamu, The Waters of Greenstone, for the South Island.

Now the public consultation will begin with all New Zealanders

For several years the Board has been investigating Maori names for New Zealands two main islands and exploring a process for formally recognising alternative Maori names for each island.

Interestingly, while researching this issue, we noted that North Island and South Island are actually not official names under our legislation, despite their common long-term usage, said Board Chairperson Dr Don Grant. We therefore want to formalise alternative Maori names and, at the same time, make the naming of the North and South Islands official.

Alternative naming means that either the English names (North Island and South Island), or the Maori names could be used individually or together. This differs from dual naming where both names are used together in official documents, such as maps.

Assigning alternative names will allow the Board to recognise the historical and cultural importance of traditional Maori names for both islands, while still retaining the long-term and commonly used English names, which are important to New Zealanders, said Dr Grant.

The Maori names Te Ika a Maui for the North Island and Te Wai Pounamu for the South Island appear on early official maps and documents. The Boards research has also shown that Maori names for the islands appear on the very earliest maps and charts, including those of Captain Cook. Cooks chart did not include English names for these islands.

This is part of our countrys history of European exploration and the settlement of New Zealand. It was only from the 1950s that Maori names of the two main islands stopped appearing on official maps, says Dr Grant.

The Boards consideration of alternative names arises from a member of the publics proposal to rename the South Island Te Wai Pounamu. The Boards view was that replacing the name South Island was not appropriate, but that alternative Maori names should be collected and considered for both the North Island and South Island, as a related pair of names.

This is a matter of great historical and cultural significance for New Zealand, so we want to consult with the wider New Zealand public, said Dr Grant. Before we do that, we want to make sure weve collected known traditional Maori names to inform what we then consult on.

The Board assigns, approves, alters or discontinues the use of names for geographic features (eg place names), undersea features and Crown protected areas in New Zealand, its offshore islands and its continental shelf and the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. The Board is a statutory body of government operating under the New Zealand Geographic Board (Nga Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008 and reporting to the Minister for Land Information.

NZGBs decision in principle was initially made in 2007, but the matter was deferred as the New Zealand Geographic Board Act 2008 did not provide for alternative naming. As the Act was amended in December 2012, the NZGB is now able to proceed

For more information about New Zealand place naming, and the role of the NZGB, visit http://www.linz.govt.nz/placenames


3 thoughts on “Shock discovery leads to public consultation on re-naming the North & South Islands

  1. I am in favour of the dual naming. The Maori heritage should not be lost. However, these names are rather unwieldy in comparison with the directness of North Island and South Island, names which have also acquired a certain aura over the years. I certainly have different immediate mental images of each Island, and also of Stewart Island. Logically, the outlying islands should also have Maori names, if they can be identified, as is the case with Raki-ura for Stewart Island.

    I think the country as a whole did not have a Maori name originally, or am I wrong?

    1. I could be wrong but I think Aotearoa was the name given from Kupe when he first came to discover the newly found land.

  2. I have an old atlas that we think was published between WWI and WWII. It uses ‘Te Ika-A-Maui’ and ‘Te Wai Pounamu’. They’re beautiful names which tell important stories. North and South Island are such boring and unimaginative names. The atlas also calls Stewarts Island ‘Raki-ura’.

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