New Zealand place names

This is a good article. Click here for more information.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Captain James Cook's map of New Zealand, showing a mixture of Māori names and names Cook bestowed himself

Most New Zealand place names have a Māori or a British origin. Both groups used names to commemorate notable people, events, places from their homeland, and their ships, or to describe the surrounding area. It is unknown whether Māori had a name for the whole of New Zealand before the arrival of Europeans, but post-colonisation the name Aotearoa (commonly translated as 'long white cloud') has been used to refer to the whole country. Dutch cartographers named the islands Nova Zeelandia, the Latin translation of the Dutch Nieuw Zeeland (after the Dutch province of Zeeland). By the time of British exploration, the country's name was anglicised to New Zealand.

Many of the early Māori names were replaced by Europeans during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Government amendments in 1894 and the establishment of the New Zealand Geographic Board in the mid-1940s led to the encouragement of original Māori names, although differing spellings and anglicised pronunciations persisted. Many names now have alternative or dual English and Māori names or, in a few rare cases, dual Māori names or dual English names. Most names have never been made official, but if they are mentioned in authoritative publications they are considered recorded names. Colloquial names in New Zealand result from an ironic view of the place's entertainment value, or plays on advertising mottos, or are shortened versions of the full name. Some places tried to capitalise on the success of The Lord of the Rings films by linking themselves to the movies.

Country and main islands[edit]

brown square paper with Dutch writing and a thick red, curved line
Dutch map of 1657 showing western coastline of "Nova Zeelandia"

No known pre-contact Māori name for New Zealand as a whole survives, although the Māori had several names for the North and South Islands, including Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui) for the North Island and Te Waipounamu (the waters of greenstone) and Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki) for the South Island.[1] Until the early 20th century, Māori also referred to the North Island as Aotearoa[2] (commonly translated as 'long white cloud'); in modern Māori usage this has become the name for the whole country.[3]

Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first European to sight New Zealand, in 1642. He named it Staten Land "in honour of the States General" (Dutch parliament). He wrote, "it is possible that this land joins to the Staten Land but it is uncertain",[4] referring to a landmass of the same name at the southern tip of South America, discovered by Jacob Le Maire in 1616.[5][6] Hendrik Brouwer proved that the South American land was an island in 1643, and Dutch cartographers subsequently renamed Tasman's discovery Nova Zeelandia, from Latin, after the Dutch province of Zeeland.[7][8] Nova Zeelandia later became Nieuw Zeeland in Dutch. It is unknown when this was anglicised to New Zealand, but when British explorer James Cook left on his first voyage of discovery in 1768, the sealed orders given to him by the British Admiralty ordered him to proceed " the Westward between the Latitude beforementioned and the Latitude of 35° until’ you discover it, or fall in with the Eastern side of the Land discover’d by Tasman and now called New Zeland."[9]

The 1840 Letters Patent established New Zealand as a British colony and claimed the "principal islands" of New Zealand, identified by their commonly known names at the time: the Northern Island (the North Island), the Middle Island (the South Island) and Stewart's Island or "South Island".[10][11] The letters patent attempted to rename the islands New Ulster, New Munster and New Leinster after the provinces in Ireland.[10] New Ulster, New Munster and New Leinster were also used for the initial provinces of New Zealand, but the names did not endure. In the 1830s the South Island was used as an alternative to Middle Island and by 1907 it became the common name. The North and South Island names arose through common usage rather than official declaration[12] and in 2009 it was revealed that they had never been formalised.[13][14]

In 2013, alternative names were formalised for the two main islands, as North Island or Te Ika-a-Māui, and South Island or Te Waipounamu,[15] with either English or Māori name being used or a combination of both.

Māori names[edit]

Words that are commonly used in Maori place names:[16]
ara Path or road
hau Wind
maunga Mountain
moana Sea or ocean
nui Big
one Mud, sand or beach
puke Hill
roto Lake
wai Water
whanga Bay
whenua Land or country

Many Māori place names possess either historical or mythological significance. Their meaning is not always apparent from literal translations, but some interpretations have passed down through oral tradition.[17][18] Before the arrivals of Europeans, place names often commemorated notable or historical incidents, described features of the location or derived from traditional Hawaiki names or myths. After European arrival many locations became known under names representing Māori versions of European words or poorly-pronounced contractions of the original Māori names.[17]

Early Māori explorers such as Kupe, Ngahue, and Toi named many of New Zealand's coastal features. Like later European explorers, they named things after themselves, their family members and events that occurred at the newly discovered locations. Kahumatamomoe named Manukau Harbour after a manuka stake that he used to claim ownership of the area, and Kaipara Harbour after the para fern he ate there (kai means food).[19] The Māori name for Wellington Harbour, Te Whanganui a Tara (the great harbour of Tara), derives from Tara, a grandson of Kupe and ancestor of several local iwi.[20] Names from other islands visited during the Polynesian migrations have become attached to some New Zealand landmarks, for example Raratoka Island (from Rarotonga) and Tawhiti (from Tahiti). Whakatane, Rangitoto Island, Taupo, Urewera, Ngongotahā, and Tikitapu all commemorate incidents that occurred during the early arrivals, many of which are now forgotten.[17]

Maketu and Mount Moehau are two of the few remaining names connected to places in Hawaiki. The use of Polynesian mythology in names is more apparent, with Tāne (the forest god) lending his name to Ōtāne and Taneatua, among others.[21] Descriptive words often occur as part of a place name.[16] Whanganui means "wide river-mouth" and Waikanae indicates good waters for catching kanae, or flathead mullet.[21]

European arrivals exposed Māori to Christianity, leading to the settlements of Hiruharama, Petane and Hamaria – named after the biblical Jerusalem, Bethany and Samaria respectively. The names of the Rānana, Ātene and Kareponia settlements represent Māori-language approximations of London, Athens and California.[22]

Moriori, descendants of Māori,[23] migrated to the Chatham Islands (off the eastern coasts of mainland New Zealand) c. 1500 CE and named them Rēkohu (Misty Sun). Sometime before 1835 mainland Māori settled at Rēkohu and confused the name of the settlement, Wharekauri, with the name of the main island. It has been known as Wharekauri to Māori ever since.[24]

Post-colonial recognition[edit]

Early Europeans replaced most of the original Māori names with their own, although they retained some Māori names, especially in the north and central regions of the North Island. The Royal Geographical Society of London was responsible for place names until 1894 when authority was given to the governor of New Zealand.[18] The future Prime Minister Joseph Ward moved an amendment in 1894 that gave preference to Māori names for any new features and allowed the alteration of misspelt names (although this did not always occur). In 1924 the Honorary Geographic Board of New Zealand was set up by the government to advise on place names, and in 1946 the New Zealand Parliament established the New Zealand Geographic Board (NZGB) and gave it power to change or implement Māori and English names.[18] Anyone can propose a geographical name to the Board, which consults local Māori and allows public submissions before determining if a name should be made official.[25] Names can also be made official through an Act of Parliament. The NZGB is required to keep a public list of all the official New Zealand geographical names.[18][26]

The NZGB prefers Māori place names and look to restore the original Māori name if it has altered over time. If both names are considered equally significant a place may be given dual or alternative names. The board prefers places to have single names and aims to use just the Māori name eventually.[27] Alternative names are where officially either name could be used (for example, the North Island and Te Ika-a-Māui)[28] and dual names are where both names should be used together (Matiu / Somes Island).[29] In 1998, as a result of the settling of the Ngāi Tahu Treaty claim, New Zealand's tallest mountain officially became Aoraki / Mount Cook.[30] There are also a few English dual names, with Wellington Harbour also officially known as Port Nicholson.[31]

Māori groups have campaigned to correct inaccurately-spelled or -pronounced Māori-language place names. In 2000 the Geographic Board declined a local iwi suggestion to rename the Wellington suburb of Hataitai to Whataitai (the name of a taniwha (sea-monster) which legend says lived in Wellington Harbour).[32] In 2009 the NZGB recommended renaming the city of Wanganui to Whanganui as the town was originally named after the Whanganui River and the word wanga is not in the Māori lexicon.[32] The government decided later in 2009 to accept both "Whanganui" and "Wanganui" as alternative official names.[33] The spelling "Wanganui" may have originated to reflect the dialectal pronunciation of local Māori, who pronounce 'wh' (an "f"-like sound in other dialects) as [ˀw] – a glottalised "w".[34]

European names[edit]

Black and White photograph of Sir George Grey
The Grey River, Mount Grey, Greytown, Greymouth and Grey Lynn all derive their name from Sir George Grey

Tasman named a few geographic features as he sailed along New Zealand's west coast. Many such as Murderers Bay did not last, while some like Cape Maria van Diemen (the wife of the governor of Batavia) and Bay of Islands are still in use. Cook named many more on his voyage, including Bay of Plenty, Three Kings Islands, Poverty Bay, Cape Farewell, Queen Charlotte Sound, Mount Egmont and Banks Peninsula. Cape Kidnappers commemorates a Māori attempt to kidnap one of Cook's crew members. Jules Dumont d'Urville named French Pass after sailing through it. The explorers lent their names to many places, including Mount Tasman, Tasman Glacier, the Tasman region, Cook Strait, Mount Cook and d'Urville Island. The Coromandel, Chatham and Pegasus ships visited New Zealand's shores between 1791 and 1820 and were used to name Coromandel Peninsula, Chatham Islands, Pegasus Bay and Port Pegasus. Stewart Island was named after the first officer aboard the Pegasus.[35]

Most European names came during the 1840s to the 1910s and were given by surveyors who worked for colonising associations or provincial governments. Names acknowledged the colonising associations sponsors (Hutt Valley, Wakefield, Port Chalmers, Ashburton), ships (Bombay), government officials (Featherston, Rolleston, Invercargill), politicians (Foxton, Fox Glacier, Gisborne) and church leaders (Selwyn).[36] Military heroes and famous battles were popular place names, with Auckland, Napier, Hastings, Havelock, Wellington, Picton, Marlborough, Nelson and Blenheim. British politicians and royalty lent their names to Russell, Palmerston, Cromwell, Queenstown and Alexandra, while Franz Josef is named after the Austrian emperor. Royal names are more popular for streets than towns or geographical features, although both Auckland and Wellington have Mount Victoria. Gore is named after governor Thomas Gore Browne and George Grey's name is used for Greytown, Greymouth, Grey Lynn and many natural features. Relatively few names are derived from British towns, with Dunedin (after EdinburghDùn Éideann in Scottish Gaelic[37]), New Plymouth and the Canterbury Province among the most notable.[38]

Many inland locations (including Helensville, Dargaville, Morrinsville, Bulls, Masterton and Levin) were named after the early settlers. The Mackenzie Country takes its name from a sheep stealer and King Country references the region where the Māori king defied colonial government for many years. Mountains and passes were named after their discoverers (Haast, Lewis) or scientists (Newton, Lyell). Other names were descriptive, such as Woodville, Island Bay, Riverton, Whitecliffs and Bluff.[39] A few derive their names from descriptions in languages other than English or Māori, for example: Miramar, which means "sea view" in Spanish; and Inchbonnie, which means "beautiful" (bonnie in Lallands) "island" (innis in Scottish Gaelic).

Regional patterns[edit]

Many Scottish names occur in Otago and Southland (the Lammerlaws, Invercargill, Wedderburn, Glenfalloch) and Scottish settlers also named Riccarton and the Avon River in Christchurch. Canterbury has an English flavour to its nomenclature with Christchurch and Oxford, but also contains Belfast and French names throughout the Akaroa area. Scandinavian migrants left their mark in the Seventy Mile Bush with Dannevirke and Norsewood[39] and some of the suburbs and streets of Auckland and Wellington reflect Australian immigration (Footscray and Botany Downs). There is very little Asian influence in New Zealand place naming, with Khandallah in Wellington and Cashmere (Kashmir) in Christchurch, reflecting British imperial connections rather than Indian influence.[40]

Unofficial names[edit]

Many of New Zealand's place names have never been officially approved by the NZGB. They either fall outside the board's jurisdiction (homesteads, lighthouses) or were common names before the board was established and have never been officially formalised. Unofficial recorded names are defined as "names that have appeared in at least two publicly available authoritative publications or databases".[26] Recorded names include major cities (Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch), mountains (Mount Tasman, Mount Dampier), islands (Auckland Islands, Great Barrier Island) and many other geographical features.[n 1]

New Zealand and various parts of it have acquired a range of colloquial names over the years. Unofficial late 19th century names for New Zealand included "Maoriland" and "God's Own Country".[43][44] The former occurred widely in the labour movement and an early labour newspaper was named the Maoriland Worker. Premier Richard John Seddon (in power 1893–1906) popularised "God's Own Country". Both names fell out of popularity in the 20th century, although "God's Own Country" (or "Godzone") still occasionally appears.[45] Latinate names for the country have included Zealandia and Nova Zealandia.[46]

Many cities and towns have nicknames based on a prominent feature or one which promoters wish to emphasise. Christchurch is promoted as the "Garden City"[47] and Auckland is commonly referred to as the "city of sails".[48] Hamilton acquired the nickname "the Tron" after "Hamiltron: City of the Future" was suggested for a city slogan.[49] Wellington is also known as the "windy city" due to its strong and unpredictable winds.[50]

Matamata's 'Welcome to Hobbiton' sign

Following the release of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films, New Zealand has sometimes been called "Middle-earth" after the fictional setting of the films. Wellington, the centre of the films' production, was sometimes called Middle-earth, and for about a week around the release of the first movie the local newspaper The Evening Post renamed itself to The Middle Earth Post. The town of Matamata, near the location of many of the Hobbiton scenes, unofficially renamed itself "Hobbiton".[51] The flourishing of the film-industry in Wellington has led to the nickname "Wellywood", and a proposal to erect a "Hollywood" style sign near the airport was overturned due to public resistance and possible copyright infringements.[52]

A number of towns have acquired ironic nicknames comparing them to the "more exciting" city of Las Vegas; "Rotovegas" for Rotorua,[53] "Ashvegas" for Ashburton and "Invervegas" for Invercargill.[54] Other areas have nicknames or popular designations based on abbreviations or mangling of the Māori name. New Zealanders will sometimes refer to the Taranaki Region as "The Naki",[55] Palmerston North as "Palmy", Gisborne as "Gizzie", Cardrona as "Cardie",[56] Paraparaumu as "Paraparam", Waimakariri as "Waimak" and Paekākāriki as "Pie-cock".[3]

Waikikamukau (/waɪkɪkɑːmuːkaʊ/, as if saying "Why kick a moo-cow") is a generic name for a small rural town or locality in New Zealand.[57]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Recorded names were obtained by comparing names found in the New Zealand Place Names Database[41] but not recorded in the New Zealand Gazetteer of Official Geographic Names.[42]


  1. ^ Mein Smith 2005, p. 6.
  2. ^ King 2003, p. 41.
  3. ^ a b Hay, Maclagan & Gordon 2008, p. 72.
  4. ^ Tasman, Abel. "JOURNAL or DESCRIPTION By me Abel Jansz Tasman, Of a Voyage from Batavia for making Discoveries of the Unknown South Land in the year 1642". Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  5. ^ Wilson, John (March 2009). "European discovery of New Zealand – Abel Tasman". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  6. ^ John Bathgate. "The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout:Volume 44. Chapter 1, Discovery and Settlement". NZETC. Retrieved 17 August 2018. He named the country Staaten Land, in honour of the States-General of Holland, in the belief that it was part of the great southern continent.
  7. ^ Wilson, John (September 2007). "Tasman's achievement". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 16 February 2008.
  8. ^ Mackay, Duncan (1986). "The Search For The Southern Land". In Fraser, B (ed.). The New Zealand Book Of Events. Auckland: Reed Methuen. pp. 52–54.
  9. ^ Wood, James (1900). The Nuttall Encyclopaedia: Being a Concise and Comprehensive Dictionary of General Knowledge. London and New York: Frederick Warne & Co. p. iii. Retrieved 10 October 2016..
  10. ^ a b Paterson, Donald (April 2009) [originally published in 1966]. "New Leinster, New Munster, and New Ulster". In McLintock, Alexander (ed.). An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  11. ^ Brunner, Thomas (1851). The Great Journey: an expedition to explore the interior of the Middle Island, New Zealand, 1846-8. Royal Geographical Society.
  12. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm (November 2009). "Place names – Naming the country and the main islands". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  13. ^ Davison, Isaac (22 April 2009). "North and South Islands officially nameless". The New Zealand Herald.
  14. ^ "Confusion over NZ islands' names". BBC News. 22 April 2009.
  15. ^ Williamson, Maurice (10 October 2013). "Names of NZ's two main islands formalised" (Press release). New Zealand Government.
  16. ^ a b Reed, A. W. (1996). The Reed dictionary of Māori place names = Te papakupu ingoa wāhi Māori a Reed. A. W. Reed (3rd ed.). Auckland: Reed. ISBN 0-7900-0040-7. OCLC 37527526.
  17. ^ a b c Dollimore, Edward (April 2009) [originally published in 1966]. "Maori Place Names". In McLintock, Alexander (ed.). An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  18. ^ a b c d "FIG 2010 Conference Paper: Place Naming Legislation in New Zealand" (PDF). Land Information New Zealand. April 2010. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  19. ^ Taonui, Rāwiri (March 2009). "Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration – Te Arawa explorers". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  20. ^ Reid, Darren (March 2009). "Muaūpoko – Early history". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  21. ^ a b Taonui, Rāwiri (March 2009). "Ngā waewae tapu – Māori exploration – Western North Island". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  22. ^ "Events, maps and European influences". 24 November 2008. Retrieved 4 March 2022.
  23. ^ Clark, Ross (1994). "Moriori and Māori: The Linguistic Evidence". In Sutton, Douglas (ed.). The Origins of the First New Zealanders. Auckland: Auckland University Press. pp. 123–135.
  24. ^ Davis, Denise (September 2007). "The impact of new arrivals". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 12 December 2018. Before 1835 some Māori came to Rēkohu (Chatham Island) with sealers, and several became residents. One man of Ngāti Toa settled at Wharekauri. Lacking knowledge of the Moriori language, he failed to distinguish between the name for the settlement and the name for the island. On his return to the mainland of New Zealand he spoke of Rēkohu as Wharekauri. It has been called that by Māori ever since.
  25. ^ "Process For New Zealand Official Geographic Names" (PDF). New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunahao Aotearoa). Retrieved 19 March 2011.
  26. ^ a b "Help finding names". Land Information New Zealand. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
  27. ^ Thornber, Lorna (16 September 2020). "Is it time to restore all of New Zealand's Māori place names?". Stuff. Retrieved 16 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. ^ Fox, Michael (10 October 2013). "Islands' alternative names confirmed". Stuff. Retrieved 16 November 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  29. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm (November 2009). "Place names – Māori and Pākehā names". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  30. ^ Doug Graham. "NZ Government Executive Ngāi Tahu Settlement". New Zealand Government Executive. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  31. ^ "Kairangi Name Proposals go to Public Consultation". Land Information New Zealand. August 2010. Archived from the original on 9 June 2012. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
  32. ^ a b "Consultation on proposed names: Other Considerations". Land Information New Zealand. Archived from the original on 6 June 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  33. ^ "Whanganui or Wanganui – it's up to you". The New Zealand Herald. 18 December 2009.
  34. ^ Beaglehole, Diana. "Whanganui or Wanganui?". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  35. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm (March 2009). "Place names – Early explorers". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  36. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm (November 2009). "Place names – Colonial naming". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  37. ^[bare URL PDF]
  38. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm (March 2009). "Place names – The imperial connection". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  39. ^ a b McKinnon, Malcolm (March 2009). "Place names – Local naming". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  40. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm (March 2009). "Place names – Omissions and minor influences". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  41. ^ "New Zealand Place Names Database". Land Information New Zealand. Archived from the original on 12 March 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  42. ^ "New Zealand Gazetteer of Official Geographic Names". Land Information New Zealand. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  43. ^ Phillips, Jock (March 2009). "The New Zealanders – Maorilanders". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  44. ^ "Bracken, Thomas (1843–1898)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  45. ^ Woodham, Kerre (28 February 2011). "Their spirit is strong". The New Zealand Herald.
  46. ^ Orsman, H.W. (1997). The Dictionary of New Zealand English: a dictionary of New Zealandisms on historical principles. Auckland: Oxford University Press. pp. 931–932.
  47. ^ "Welcome to Christchurch, the Garden City". Christchurch City Council. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  48. ^ McFadden, Suzanne (25 August 2010). "Auckland: City of sails". The New Zealand Herald.
  49. ^ Phillips, Hazel (30 November 2009). "Monday News Munchies: Hamiltron has the goods". National Business Review.
  50. ^ "All About Wellington". Statistics New Zealand. Archived from the original on 13 November 2010. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  51. ^ "Lord of the Rings: Magic for New Zealand Tourism?". National Geographic. 19 December 2001. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  52. ^ "Airport backs down over 'Wellywood' sign". The Southland Times. New Zealand. 31 March 2010.
  53. ^ Barber, Lynn (27 May 2002). "Just the spot... for jumping off a cliff". Guardian Unlimited.
  54. ^ Hay, Maclagan & Gordon 2008, p. 81.
  55. ^ "TVNZ's Toni ties the knot in the 'Naki". The New Zealand Herald. 6 December 2009.
  56. ^ McKinnon, Malcolm (March 2009). "Place names – Naming after 1920". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  57. ^ Gulliver, Aimee (24 January 2014). "This American's got us Kiwis sussed". Stuff. Retrieved 4 May 2020.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]