Frequently Asked Questions - Alternative Māori Names for the North Island and South Island

25 March 2011

FAQ - Alternative Māori Names for the North Island and South Island

What’s happening?
The Board is seeking the public’s views on whether or not to formalise the names ‘North Island’ and ‘Te Ika-a-Māui’, and ‘South Island’ and ‘Te Waipounamu’, for the two main islands of New Zealand.
What does it mean?
This means that, if the proposals are agreed, the existing English names and the Māori names for the islands will be able to be used officially, either individually or together.  This also means they can be referred to as the ‘North Island’ or ‘Te Ika-a-Māui’, or the ‘South Island’ or ‘Te Waipounamu’ – or both names can be used together.
How has it come about?
In 2004 a Christchurch resident, with an interest in New Zealand history, submitted a proposal to rename the South Island ‘Te Waipounamu’.  The Board’s consideration of alternative Māori names arises from that proposal.
What is the Board’s decision?
The Board’s view is that replacing the name ‘South Island’ would not be appropriate, and that alternative Māori names should be considered for both the North Island and South Island.  The Board therefore agreed to assign official alternative Māori names for the North Island and South Island, as well as formalise the currently used and recorded English names (North Island and South Island).
Why has this taken so long?
The Board has been careful to take time researching and considering this important matter, which is affected by a number of factors that have contributed to the length of time in regards to implementing this process:
  • As the islands are a related pair, the NZGB felt that Māori names should be assigned to both – rather than just to the South Island, as per the initial proposal.  This meant that the NZGB was required to consult with iwi to determine the most appropriate names.
  • The NZGB also felt that it was most appropriate to formalise the existing current English names at the same time as the Māori names.
  • The NZGB felt it more appropriate that the islands be assigned alternative names.  However, the NZGB Act 2008 did not provide for alternative names until it was amended in December 2012, so the NZGB can now proceed through the full statutory process.
Why is the Board acting on one person’s proposal?
Anyone can make a place name proposal, provided certain requirements are met. Under the New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008 the Board considers proposals to assign, alter, approve or discontinue names for geographic features and places.

While the Board does not proceed with all proposals, the Māori place names aspect of these proposals were deemed to have sufficient merit – especially given the historical use of Māori names for the North and South Islands on official maps.
Why not a dual name – allowing the process to be carried out and completed in a much shorter timeframe – rather than an alternative name?
The Board felt that changing the names of the islands, or assigning dual names, would create too much cost and disruption throughout the country and for overseas visitors.  Dual names would have meant that both the English and Māori names would have had to be used together on official documents eg ‘Te Ika-a-Māui / North Island’ and ‘Te Waipounamu / South Island’.  Therefore the decision has been made to assign the Māori names as alternatives to the English names (and visa versa), thereby preserving New Zealand’s heritage in both languages.
So the Board doesn’t think that alternative names will cause confusion?
Alternative names can be used individually or together.  This means that individuals/organisations/etc will still be able to refer to the islands as they always have. Further, as both ‘Te Ika-a-Māui’ and ‘Te Waipounamu’ are commonly used Māori names for the islands, confusion is not expected to be significant – and is likely to be outweighed by an international trend of acknowledging culture, heritage and identity when assigning geographical names.
Are there any examples of other alternative names in New Zealand, or will these be the first?
Following the amendment of the NZGB Act in December 2012, the Board formally gazetted the alternative names ‘Wanganui’ and ‘Whanganui’.
In the mid-1980s, Mount Taranaki or Mount Egmont were recognised as the first formally assigned alternative names (under previous legislation).
Could the public seek dual names or changed names?
The public is able to seek dual or changed names during the consultation process.  To consider this, however, the Board would need good reasons and evidence of significant public support for other proposals.  The Board currently believes that alternative naming would be the most appropriate and least disruptive solution.
What if I want to express my views to the Board outside of the public consultation period?
The formal consultation period is from 4 April 2013 to 5 July 2013 – therefore the Board’s formal consideration of submissions will probably be limited to those submissions made within the consultation period.
What happens after public consultation?
The Board will consider all submissions (both supporting and objecting) at its next meeting on 31 July 2013. The final decisions are likely to be made by the Minister for Land Information.
Why were Māori consulted before the rest of New Zealand?
As the proposed alternative Māori names relate to the use of traditional names, the NZGB sought to determine whether those names are correct and appropriate.
Tangata whenua Māori – as the indigenous people of New Zealand – are responsible for many of the place names in New Zealand, and the Board believes they have the best repository of knowledge about traditional Māori names.
Why is this the first that we’ve heard of this issue?
The Board has previously made public its intention to consider formalising the English and alternative Māori names for the two main islands of New Zealand.
Everyone already knows the North and South Island names – why not just leave them as they are and forget about Māori names
There is no legislation that formally assigns the names to the islands.  The Board has a function to collect and encourage the use of original Māori place names.  
It should also be noted that both the English and Māori names for these islands appeared on early maps up to the 1950s, following which – for reasons we are unable to ascertain – the Māori names were omitted.  In fact Captain Cook only showed Māori names (with different spelling) on his charts of New Zealand.
Are these definitely the original Māori names – how can you be sure?
While the names currently being consulted on are – following consultation with iwi – deemed to be the most appropriate and commonly known, a number of different Māori names have been identified for
The North Island:
  • Aotearoa;
  • Aeheinomouwe – Captain Cook’s spelling of what might be He Ahi No Māui (a fire of Māui) or He Hi No Māui (a thing of Māui).

The South Island:

  • Te Tumuki – the oldest recorded name;
  • Te Arapaoa;
  • Tovypoenammu – Cook’s spelling of Te Waipounamu;
  • Te Wāhi Pounamu;
  • Te Waka-a-Māui;
  • Te Waka o Aoraki;
  • Tau Ihu o te Waka.

Charts and maps of early explorers showed the following Māori names recorded for both islands:

  • Eahei No Mauwe for the North Island and T’avai Poenammoo for the South Island (Cook 1769–1770)
  • Eaheinomauwe for the North Island and Tavai Poenammoo for the South Island (Arrowsmith 1841)
  • Te-ahi a Maui for the North Island and Te Waipounamu for the South Island (Stokes 1848–1855).
Why was the name ‘Aotearoa’ not deemed most appropriate for the North Island given that most New Zealanders are already familiar with it?
While the Board is aware that ‘Aotearoa’ is a name that has been applied in the past to just the North Island, it is has been popularised and commonly used as the Māori name for all of New Zealand.  For this reason, the Board has decided that ‘Aotearoa’ will not be put forward for public consultation.
What about the name ‘Aotearoa’ for New Zealand?
The naming of New Zealand is not within the Board’s jurisdiction.  Only Parliament has the power to formally change the name of our country.
Are there any other known English names for the North Island and South Island?
There have been several other known recorded English names for both islands:
  • Middle Island – for the South Island, in the group North Island, Middle Island and South Island, where South Island applied to Stewart Island / Rakiura;
  • New Ulster – for the North Island;
  • New Munster – for the South Island;
  • Island of Victoria – for the South Island.
Why did Māori names for the North Island and South Island stop appearing on official maps from the 1950s?
The Board does not know why Māori names stopped appearing on official maps from the 1950s.
Is the Board considering Māori names for Stewart Island?
Stewart Island / Rakiura already has a dual English and Māori name.  This was formalised through the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.  This island has been previously known as ‘South Island’, ‘New Leinster’, ‘Stewart Island’, ‘Rakiura’, and ‘Te Puka o te waka a Māui’ (the anchor stone of the canoe of Māui).