Would a rōhi by any other name smell as sweet?

The Māori Party has launched a petition to have New Zealand’s name officially changed to Aotearoa:

Party co-leaders Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer are also petitioning for Te Reo Māori names of all towns, cities and place names to be restored by 2026.

Their petition was launched Tuesday, the second day of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori/Māori Language Week.

“Our petition calls on Parliament to change New Zealand to Aotearoa and begin a process, alongside whānau, hapū and iwi, to identify and officially restore the original Te Reo Māori names for all towns, cities and places right across the country by 2026,” said Waititi.

“Tangata whenua are sick to death of our ancestral names being mangled, bastardised, and ignored. It’s the 21st Century, this must change.” . . .

Mangling and bastardising is not confined to Maori names and will continue whether or not Maori names are adopted.

Putting that aside, I support the idea of a referendum on whether our country is named Aotearoa or New Zealand and if that was the only option I’d vote for Aotearoa.

Yes, the early Maori settlers didn’t have a concept of the country as a whole nor did they have a name for it, but Aotearoa has been commonly used for a very long time and it is distinctively ours. Shallow it might be, it’s also alphabetically advantageous to have your country’s name start with an A than an N.

But if we’re also being asked to change the names of all towns, cities and other places, I wouldn’t.

Karl du Fresne has a better idea:

. . . How about this for a rule of thumb? We should retain or restore the Maori names of everything that existed pre-colonisation and for which Maori had their own established nomenclature. That includes geographical features such as mountains, lakes, rivers, coastal features and islands – yes, even the North and South Islands (Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu respectively) and Stewart Island (Rakiura).  This wouldn’t require a seismic adjustment because many are referred to by their Maori names anyway – even some that were once known by English names, such as Mt Taranaki/Egmont.

But for everything created post-colonisation and given an English or European name, the status quo should prevail unless the people decide otherwise. This would acknowledge both the Tangata Whenua and the Tangata Tiriti (i.e. non-Maori), but wouldn’t preclude the citizens of any locality from deciding to ditch their English place name in favour of a Maori one. I for one would rather live in Ngamotu than New Plymouth and Taitoko rather than Levin.

The bottom line in all cases is that decisions should be made democratically, not imposed by the political elite or the raucous proponents of identity politics.

Detractors will argue that there are far more important issues that need addressing. They are right but most of us are capable with dealing with more than one thing at a time.

Names are important. Shakespeare’s Juliet asked if a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and Anne Shirley (she of Green Gables) said it wouldn’t if it was called a skunk cabbage.

While it’s going to far to say New Zealand is a skunk cabbage of a name, it’s a long way from a rose, or rōhi.

The Maori Party is doing the right thing by launching a referendum that allows all of us to have a say but they need to word it carefully.

If they want to change the country’s name they should ask the questions so that people can opt for Aotearoa without also having to opt for all the other place name changes as well. I think enough people might be persuaded to let go of New Zealand but wholesale name changes for towns, cities and other places is much less likely to gain majority support.

But the petition is here and the party has made the mistake of requiring people to support or oppose name changes for the country and all other places. I’d have signed it if I could support the change to Aotearoa but not all the other changes.

2 Responses to Would a rōhi by any other name smell as sweet?

  1. Heather Adam says:

    For the first time, Ele, I disagree with you. Within NZ it would be acceptable but our image overseas is too important to our economy to be changing our name. Apart from not recognising the name, most would have trouble pronouncing it, I feel that we have worked so hard to build essential trade on the other side of the world, that it would be a backward step.

    Like

  2. Andrei says:

    Heather nations change name all the time – when I came here as a child the ship that bought us here bunkered in Ceylon which is now Sri Lanka

    And of course New Zealand is not called New Zealand in other lands, though as far as I know it is usually just translation thing

    Новая Зеландия (Novaya Zelandiya), Nouvelle-Zélande etc

    However we don’t use the local names for many Nations, Do you know where Suomi is?

    I’ll put you out of your misery it is the name Finns use for their motherland

    And Greece is Elláda if you live there

    Aotearoa originally only referred to the North Island in the dialect favoured by the Europeans as being standard Maori when they documented it and whatever else was spoken at that time is lost forever but then again many English dialects have also gone the way of the dodo

    Certainly appellations “The North Island” and “The South Island” for the two main Islands of our archipelago are about as unimaginative as you can get and certainly do not lend themselves to poetry

    So a rethink of it all might not go amiss

    Like

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