Slip-up on islands' names uncovered

Last updated 05:00 03/04/2013

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Discussions about assigning formal Maori names to New Zealand's two main islands have revealed they don't have English ones either.

The New Zealand Geographic Board Nga Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa is consulting the public about formally assigning alternative Maori names to both islands.

The move follows a proposal to change the name of the South Island to its original Maori name, Te Waipounamu (the waters of greenstone), and the North Island to Te Ika-a-Maui (the fish of Maui), which was suggested after consultation with iwi.

During that consultation it was discovered that North Island and South Island were never formalised as names.

Board chairman Don Grant said there was an agreement that the English names should be formalised and both islands should also be assigned Maori alternative names, to be formalised at the same time.

Hamilton historian and Maori placename advocate Wiremu Puke said recognition of the original Maori names was a step in the right direction.

"It's a positive step forward having the original names recognised. We have lived with those [English] names for quite a considerable period of time, even though Te Ika-a-Maui and Te Waipounamu were recorded in Captain Cook's early maps."

Mr Puke said Te Ika-a-Maui and Te Waipounamu were rich with history and imagery whereas the English names were "ambiguous".

"Being able to provide that richness of the history of the land really enables schools and community in particular to grasp their sense of identity."

Geographic Board secretary Wendy Shaw said that, if the alternative names were agreed to, government departments would not be required to make changes and no costs would be incurred.

North Island and South Island appear on official government maps and official publications as recorded names, but the NZGB Act 2008 "does not require recorded names to be used".

Maori names appeared on early official maps, but the practice stopped in the 1950s. The Geographic Board is not considering any other proposals.

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- The Dominion Post

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