Waitangi – a special place name in New Zealand’s history

3 February 2017

The name Waitangi has been used for several locations in New Zealand – in Gisborne, Canterbury, Otago, on the West Coast and in the Chatham Islands. But it’s the Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, where the Treaty was signed in 1840, that has a special place in New Zealand’s history.

The New Zealand Geographic Board (NZGB), New Zealand’s place naming authority, has been researching the history of the name and came across some interesting discoveries.

According to McKinnon in Place names – the imperial connection, Waitangi was briefly named Victoria after Queen Victoria. However, possibly because of prevailing anti-royalist attitudes at the time, it wasn’t a name that caught on.

There are several possible meanings for ‘Waitangi’ – it literally translates as ‘noisy or weeping water.’ Reed’s Place Names of New Zealand notes that the literal meaning of the Waitangi in the Bay of Islands may refer to the noise of Haruru Falls at the mouth of the Waitangi River. Sir Apirana Ngata, who was a member of the former Honorary Geographic Board of New Zealand, believed Waitangi meant ‘wailing waters’ and originated from the people of the first waka who heard voices that they identified as their ancestors farewelling them from across the sea.

Interestingly, despite its place in New Zealand’s history, Waitangi in the Bay of Islands is not an official place name. Rather, it is a recorded name and is one of many place names in long term and common use that the New Zealand Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa (NZGB) hasn’t yet dealt with. If anyone would like to play a part in officially naming Waitangi, you can make a proposal to the NZGB. 

New Zealand place names help us to find where we are and recognise our culture and heritage. The NZGB ensures Kiwis have a say in what places that are important to us are called.

Jill Remnant
NZGB Advisor
February 2017

NZTopo50 map AV29 – Russell
NZTopo50 map AV29 – Russell, edition 1.03, published 2015, Crown copyright reserved
Last Updated: 3 February 2017

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