Putting history in its place: the move to Māori names

Mt. Tarananki

It’s happening, slowly but surely: Māori names are replacing English placenames in New Zealand.

When local newspaper the Gisborne Herald ran an online poll in February, it found that 72 per cent of the nearly 600 who voted were opposed to adding the Māori name. “Why try to change the little bit of history we have got?” was one response. Others thought the new name is too confusing and too long. Some were under the mistaken impression that the city of Gisborne itself is being renamed, which it is not.

Eloise Wallace has been watching all this with interest. As the director of Gisborne’s Tairāwhiti Museum, her submission noted that “there was similar consternation from similar parts of the community” 18 years ago when her institution changed its name from the Gisborne Museum and Art Gallery. They argued that no one will know where it is. But nearly two decades later, “the majority of people visiting the museum, locals and tourists alike, will use the name Tairāwhiti and are learning its meaning and to pronounce it correctly,” Wallace says. The Māori name translates as the great standing place of Kiwa, who came from Hawaiki on the Tākitimu canoe, according to tradition.

Want to know more? Check out this article at Stuff.co.nz to learn about the movement towards Māori names.