Whanganui and the ‘h’

In 1991 Wanganui River was altered to Whanganui River, with an ‘h’, and made an official place name. More than two decades later changes to include the ‘h’ were made to the city, district and region names to bring them in line with the river’s official name.

Wanganui River

Whanganui received its name from Haunui-a-Nanaia (Hau), a chief who arrived in New Zealand on the Aotea waka. It means the long wait, and is used in an ancient waiata about Hau waiting to cross the river while in pursuit of his wife, Wairaka. He named numerous rivers and place names on this journey.

Proposal from Whanganui River Māori Trust Board

In 1990 the Whanganui River Māori Trust Board made a proposal to us to correct the spelling of the river’s name from Wanganui River to Whanganui River. We supported the proposal and went out to the community to hear their views. That decision followed the Department of Conservation establishing and naming Whanganui National Park in 1986.

Consultation on the proposal

During the three month consultation period we received seven objecting and two supporting submissions. One of the objections was from Wanganui District Council and was based on the results of a survey of 200 people from the community, the majority being against the change. However, we were convinced that the correct spelling should proceed and reported to the Minister of Survey and Land Information in March 1991.

Minister decides on the official name Whanganui River

Minister Rob Storey approved the Board’s recommendation and Whanganui River was gazetted as official on 10 October 1991.

Whanganui or Wanganui city

In 2012 Wanganui and Whanganui were both made official as alternative names for the city near the mouth of Whanganui River. 

Proposal from local hapū led to public consultation

In March 2009 we considered a proposal from mana whenua, Te Rūnanga o Tupoho, to correct the spelling of the city’s name from Wanganui to Whanganui. The proposal noted that the change would be a logical next step after correcting the river’s name in 1991, as:

  • the city takes its name from the river,
  • early evidence of the intended spelling being Whanganui,
  • Waitangi Tribunal briefs of evidence, and
  • evidence of growing use of Whanganui by organisations and businesses in the city.

We considered the evidence, which included a 2006 Wanganui District Council referendum and a 2009 council vote against changing the spelling, historical and cultural reports, and spelling advice from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori – the Māori Language Commission.

We accepted the proposal and it was opened for public consultation.

Recommendation to change city name to Whanganui

We received over 800 submissions – half supporting the name change, half objecting to it and a few that were neutral. At our September 2009 hui we acknowledged the objections but did not agree with them. Under our Act, if there is one or more objections to a proposal, and we don’t agree with any of them, then the Minister for Land Information makes the final decision. We recommended to the Minister that the city name be changed to Whanganui.

Minister decides on the official alternative names Whanganui and Wanganui

In December 2009 the Minister for Land Information, Hon Maurice Williamson, made the decision to make both Wanganui and Whanganui official alternative names. This meant that either name could be used for the city.

In his December 2009 media release he said “On balance I believe that alternative naming respectfully acknowledges the correct spelling of the Māori word ‘Whanganui’. It also respects the views of those who have always known the city's name to be spelled ‘Wanganui.’”

The Minister also directed Crown agencies to use Whanganui as a preference and that they should update signs, publications and other official documents as part of their normal business cycle to ensure they didn’t spend additional money as a result of the decision.

Change in legislation

In 2012 an amendment to our legislation, the NZGB Act 2008, was made to allow for alternative official place names, and Wanganui and Whanganui were both gazetted as official on 13 December 2012.

Gazette notice 2012-ln8191

See the Whanganui or Wanganui consultation page for further information about this decision.

Whanganui or Wanganui consultation page

Whanganui District

Map showing Whanganui District

Source: NZGB Q-GIS Gazetteer - 12/03/2015 (Crown Copyright reserved)

In 2015 Wanganui District Council requested that its district name be altered from Wanganui District to Whanganui District.
When a district or region name is changed, the proposal must be agreed by us and the Minister for Land Information. The Minister then makes a recommendation to the Governor-General to change it by Order in Council. We publish the changed official name of the district or region in the New Zealand Gazette.

Council proposal to the New Zealand Geographic Board Nga Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa

In its proposal the council noted ”In the ensuing five years since the Minister’s decision [to make Wanganui and Whanganui alternative names for the city], the change to Whanganui has gradually increased voluntary use for individual, business and organisation use, and is now commonplace. This ongoing acceptance and adoption of the historic view, demonstrates that relationships and times have changed and that the community of the district increasingly acknowledges the views expressed by Whanganui iwi.”

Board accepts the proposal and opens public consultation

Our former Chairperson Mark Dyer said the proposal was consistent with two previous name changes for the river and city, which recognised Whanganui as the correct spelling.

Whanganui means ‘the long wait’. This conceptual naming is also associated with the Kupe tradition, when he explored the interior and left a contingent at the estuary.

We agreed to notify the proposal for consultation to give the public a chance to have their say on the proposed change.

Nearly 650 submissions received

During three months of public consultation we received 299 objecting to and 350 submissions supporting the proposal. We had previously carefully considered the name of the river and city based on the merits of the arguments presented, and we were unable to reasonably come to any other decision for the District’s name. Our recommendation to the Minister for Land Information was to correct Wanganui District to Whanganui District.

Wanganui District changed to Whanganui District

On 17 November 2015 the Minister for Land Information, Hon Louise Upston, issued a media release stating that the spelling of Wanganui District would be corrected to Whanganui District.

“The Governor-General has now made an Order in Council to change the local authority name under the Local Government Act 2002 so that the change to the district name can occur.”

“This decision recognises that ‘Wanganui’ has no meaning in te reo Māori, and that ‘Whanganui’ has a number of traditions in Māori oral history. It will also ensure the district name is consistent with the official names of the river and town.

“We all have a role to play in helping to protect the culture and heritage of New Zealand’s communities. Ensuring place names are spelled correctly, so the stories behind them can be remembered and celebrated, is an important part of this,” Ms Upston said.

Whanganui District consultation page

Manawatū-Whanganui Region

Map of Manawatū-Whanganui Region

Map of Manawatū-Whanganui Region 

In June 2018 the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council resolved to alter its region name to Manawatū-Whanganui Region and submitted a proposal to us.

The council wanted consistency with other official Whanganui names and to correct the spelling of ‘Manawatu’ to ‘Manawatū’.

The council had consulted with 22 mana whenua groups across the region, and the district councils in the region, and with the public through its Long Term Planning process.

After three months of consultation we received 33 supporting and eight objecting submissions, and reported our recommendation to correct the spelling of both names to the Minister for Land Information, Hon Eugenie Sage.

An Order in Council by the Governor-General changed the name from Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council to Manawatū-Whanganui Regional Council in the Local Government Act 2002, and we gazetted Manawatū-Whanganui Region as the official name of the region in September 2019.

Manawatū-Whanganui Region consultation page