Analysis of report to the Minister on the 'Wanganui' to 'Whanganui' name change proposal

Board's analysis of objection and support

This is one section of the the New Zealand Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa proposal to alter 'Wanganui' to 'Whanganui': Summary of Submissions and the Board's Decision. See the full list of sections. A pdf version of this report is also available.

12 October 2009 Report to the Minister for Land Information on the ‘Wanganui’ to ‘Whanganui’ name change proposal (PDF 192 KB)

Board's analysis of objection and support

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The arguments and opinions from the objectors have been grouped under the following common headings:

Objectors' reasonsComment from the Board
Long-term usage of Wanganui & long time residencyThis is a very relevant factor which was carefully considered by the Board. Changes to long-established usage are not made lightly. However, such changes are made in some circumstances. The most notable example being the change from Mount Egmont to the alternative names of Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont. This was strongly opposed by many at the time but the name Mount Taranaki is now widely accepted. The usage of 'Whanganui' is also part of the historic record although less common than 'Wanganui'. The spelling with an 'h' is slowly increasing following the change to the name of the river which was confirmed by the Minister in 1991.
Pronunciation/spelling/meaning:
  • Māori is oral language
  • local dialect
Pronunciation is relevant only in that it explains how the current spelling came about in the 19th century. The Board has a function [s 11(1)(b)] to examine cases of doubtful spelling. The Board also has a function [s 11(1)(f)] to seek advice from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) on the orthography of Māori names.
Wanganui has become a distinct part of Pākeha/European heritageThis is a very relevant factor which was carefully considered by the Board. The early settlers petitioned for a change from the English name of 'Petre' to the Māori name of the river in 1844. At that time there were two forms of spelling in use – 'Wanganui' and 'Whanganui'.
City different to river and regionThe river and the city are different 'places' and their names do have different histories. However, an important factor in the Board's decision is the clear intention of the early settlers, in their 1844 petition, to reject an English name for their town and replace it with the original Māori name of the river.
Cost:
  • signage and branding
  • computer software
No submissions provided any estimates or details of such costs. Nevertheless, this is a very relevant factor which was carefully considered by the Board. The Board has addressed this through its recommendation of a minimum period of transition.
Impact on legal records, eg birth certificatesThe official name applies to new or revised publications. There is no requirement for retrospective amendments and so these records remain valid without change.
Postal issuesNew Zealand Post is currently delivering mail where the address states 'Whanganui' or 'Wanganui'. This will continue if the name of the city is changed. Misdirected mail amongst the towns and cities with names starting 'Whanga…' may occur from time to time. The increasing use of postcodes should reduce this likelihood in the future.
Duplication/confusion with other namesThere are other 'Wanganui' related names but none are significant towns or cities. There are other towns with names starting 'Whanga…' but confusion amongst these does not seem to be a significant problem. Confusion also arises from the subtle difference in spelling between the river and the city and the fact that several organisations including government agencies have adopted the spelling of the river.
Board has no mandate:
  • Provincial Council Act
  • locals should decide
The mandate of the Board is clear under the Act. The naming of the city by Act of the Provincial Council no longer has legal standing but is relevant in terms of history. The name 'Wanganui' is not an official name under the New Zealand Geographic Board Act 2008.
ReferendumMany submissions referred to the results of the 2006 and 2009 referenda – notably that of the Wanganui District Council. The referendum is relevant as an indication of public usage of, and support for, the current name. The votes for and against do not count as submissions to the Board. The Act requires submissions to be accompanied by reasons. This does not happen with votes in a referendum. An unknown number of the votes may have been cast for reasons that are not relevant to the Board's decision.
DemocracyThe Board decision is made in accordance with its statutory functions, policies, and standards. Where the Board's decision to change a name is opposed, the final decision is made by the Minister of the democratically elected government.
Precedent for other namesThis is a relevant factor which was carefully considered by the Board. The Board considered previous decisions to change the names of settled places (suburbs and localities rather than cities). The Board also considered whether this would set a precedent for future decisions that the Board would not be comfortable with. The extent to which a decision may act as a precedent in future decisions depends on whether the circumstances relating to that decision are the same or similar. The Board is not aware of any other significant towns or cities in the same situation as Wanganui – named after a feature such as a river, but spelt differently to that feature.
Questioning the proof and records that use the 'h'The Board has extensive documentary proof of both forms of spelling – from the original proposal and additional material provided in correspondence with the Board or uncovered through Board research.
Division in communityNot relevant to the Board's consideration. These divisions are of long standing and would not be resolved by retaining the status quo either.
General opposition to change:
  • political correctness
  • unnecessary
  • more important issues to address
Not relevant to the Board's consideration. The Board is expected to consider the merits of any proposals put before it in terms of its statutory functions, policies, and standards.
General opposition to Māori:
  • oppose activists
  • oppose Māori names
Not relevant to the Board's consideration. The Board is expected to consider the merits of any proposals put before it in terms of its statutory functions, policies, and standards. The Board has functions relating to Māori names.
Personal support for the Mayor of Wanganui (Michael Laws)The Board seeks the views of the Territorial Authority and gives careful consideration to those views. However, support or opposition by others for the Mayor is not of itself a consideration for the Board.
Personal opposition to the spokesperson for the proposer (Ken Mair)Not relevant to the Board's consideration. The Board is expected to consider the merits of any proposals put before it in terms of its statutory functions, policies, and standards – regardless of who makes the proposal or speaks for it.

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The arguments and opinions from the supporters have been grouped under the following common headings:

Supporter's reasonsComment from the Board
Spelling/pronunciation/standardised languageThe Board also has a function (s 11(1)(f)) to seek advice from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) on the orthography of Māori names. Their advice that 'Whanganui' is the correct spelling was a reason for the Board's decision.
Board functionsThe main functions of the Board that are relevant in this case are those of examining cases of doubtful spelling and seeking advice from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission). The Board also has functions to collect and encourage the use of original Māori names. The latter functions apply only indirectly due to the name of the city being adopted following a petition from the early settlers. The original Māori name in this case is the name of the river which has already been corrected in 1991.
Early documentary evidenceWhile early usage of 'Wanganui' was more common than 'Whanganui', the evidence of both spellings from an early date, combined with the more recently corrected name for the river, was a contributing reason for the Board's decision.
Reflects intent of early settlers/part of Pakeha history tooIt was the clear intent of the early settlers in the 1844 petition to replace the English name of Petre with the original Māori name of the river.
Align with river name and other names for consistencyThe early intent of the settlers to name the town after the river was a factor in the Board's decision. Although the city and the river can be named separately, in practice the intent of the early settlers was for the name of the town to be consistent with the name of the river.
Treaty obligations, including protection of Māori language, culture and heritageIn relation to the Treaty of Waitangi, the Board has functions to collect and encourage the use of original Māori names. Those functions have been exercised for the name of the river in 1991. They apply indirectly to the name of the city due to it having been adopted by petition of the early settlers to be the same as the river.
Māori history of nameThis aspect relates more to the name of the river than of the city. However the two are related due to the early intent to name the town after the river.
Name has meaning with the 'h'This aspect relates more to the name of the river than of the city. However the two are related due to the early intent to name the town after the river.
Cost should not be imperativeCost is relevant to the Board's decision and was the main reason for recommending a transition period of at least 12 months.
Not an issue that majority should decideThe Board weighs up arguments in terms of its statutory functions, policies, and standards. While a majority view is not an overriding criteria, public usage of the name is relevant and a majority view may be indicative of public usage.
Correct historical wrongsThe Board's responsibilities are confined to place names — in this case the spelling of a city name derived from the name of the river. At the time the name was requested by early settlers by petition, the question of right and wrong spelling was much less clear than it is now.
Will eventually encourage racial harmonyThis is not a responsibility of the Board.
Respect for tangata whenuaThe Board must respect all aspects of New Zealand's culture and heritage – not only those of tangata whenua.
Opposition to the Mayor or Pakeha in generalNot relevant to the Board's consideration