Celebrating 100 years of place naming

Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa New Zealand Geographic Board 2024 centenary.

This year, Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa New Zealand Geographic Board is marking 100 years of official place naming in New Zealand, its offshore islands, Antarctica and on the sea floor.  

We are taking the opportunity to reflect, commemorate and celebrate New Zealand’s unique cultural and national identity through place names - from early Māori explorers to the modern day. We also hope to promote public awareness and involvement in place naming. Our centenary offers a chance for us to reach more New Zealanders so they can also celebrate the naming of their tūrangawaewae, reflect on what those places mean to them, and learn about their history, origin and meaning.

The sentiments and connections we all enjoy now, applied in equal measure in 1924 and throughout the decades, are why the Board still exists and remains relevant and appropriate today. We ensure that standardised, consistent, accurate, robust and enduring decisions are made, so that New Zealanders can have certainty and context about ‘where’ and celebrate our culture and heritage in the place names we give.

We play a part in protecting and preserving our Māori place names by using standardising Māori language, advising on Treaty settlement cultural redress, restoring original Māori place names, and adapting to meet social expectations and growing awareness of Māori place names.

The stories that go with our place names are important to tourists, who want to learn about cultural connections. The stories can also point us to the resources or environment at those places and offer glimpses into important events of the past. The place names themselves often describe the physical characteristics of the landscape, which help us navigate and to know where we are.

Place names remain an important historical record and a unique identifier of our cultural heritage – they mark the places we call home.

When did it all begin?

In 1924 Surveyor-General William Neill wrote to the Minister of Lands Alexander McLeod recommending he establish an Honorary Geographic Board of New Zealand. It was agreed a place naming authority was needed to avoid confusion. As key services such as post offices and railway stations were established, place names needed to be consistent and supported by an authoritative source.

The Board held its first meeting at 2pm, Friday 12 September 1924.  

The 7 members of that original Board were:  

  • Judge Sir Frederick Chapman (Chairman)
  • Surveyor-General William Neill  
  • Archdeacon Herbert Williams  
  • Dominion Museum ethnologist Elsdon Best  
  • First librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library Johannes Andersen
  • Clerk-draughtsman Louis Ward
  • Secretary to the Surveyors’ Board Maurice Crompton-Smith
The 7 original members of the board posing together as a group

The 7 founding members of the Board in 1926

Under the 2008 Act, the Board formally became Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa New Zealand Geographic Board.  

Today the 10 Board members include the Surveyor-General as Chairperson, the National Hydrographer and eight other members appointed by the Minister for Land Information. These include two people recommended by the Minister of Māori Affairs and nominations from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, New Zealand Geographical Society, Federated Mountain Clubs, and Local Government New Zealand.  

The Board is responsible for upholding our unique cultural and national identity through place names. It does this by making them official, restoring, collecting, and correcting them, and sharing their origin and history.  

With 100 years under its belt, the Board has stood the test of time as a respected and valued expert body who remains the government’s principal advisor on good practice place naming. 

Find out more about the history of the Board

We've compiled a timeline of notable milestones in the Board's 100 year history, including notable decisions, members and legislative changes. We'll be adding more historical information throughout our centenary.

Centenary milestones of the New Zealand Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa

Make history – have your say on a place name

Anyone can be involved in making a place name official. 

Propose a place name, suggest changing an existing one, or make a submission on a current consultation:

Propose a place name

Have your say on current consultations

New Zealand Gazetteer

Explore place names in Aotearoa New Zealand, its offshore islands, Antarctica and on the sea floor, by searching the New Zealand Gazetteer. Often the meaning or history behind a name will be included and, if it is a Māori name, you can listen to the correct pronunciation where it has been recorded.

Search your hometown and discover the story behind its name

Tangata whenua place name maps

Learn the names of New Zealand places as they once were. These maps wind back time to show historical Māori place names, including for features that no longer exist.

Maps of Te Waipounamu and Te Ika-a-Māui - second edition 2023

Maps of Te Waipounamu and Te Ika-a-Māui - first edition 1995

Our place names: Ngāti Maniapoto stories

Join former board member Shane Te Ruki for a virtual field trip exploring the cultural significance behind place names in the Maniapoto region, local settlement stories and how names pass stories down through generations.

Our place names: Ngāti Maniapoto stories


Place Names of the Ancestors - A Māori Oral History Atlas

The Survey Pegs of the Past, Understanding Māori Place Names