Tuesday, February 7, 2023

What New Zealanders (that is to say, ordinary New Zealanders) think about the name Aotearoa

The jury has returned its verdict, and it’s emphatic. New Zealanders want the country’s name left as it is.

In a Newshub-Reid Research poll, respondents were asked what they thought New Zealand should be known as.

Fifty-two percent wanted the country to be called New Zealand, pure and simple. Thirty-six percent wanted Aotearoa in the mix, as in the ungainly, bob-each-way formulation Aotearoa-New Zealand.

But here’s the crunch: only 9.6 percent of those polled thought the country should be renamed Aotearoa. This is a resounding rebuff to the political, bureaucratic, academic and media elites who have tried for years to impose Aotearoa by sheer frequency of usage.

Predictably the poll results were buried deep in a Newshub story, despite the network having paid for the research. You can bet it would have been the lead item in the 6pm news if the results had gone the other way.

Newshub’s political editor Jenna Lynch chose to mention the poll almost as an afterthought in a story that was mainly concerned with taking puerile digs at National Party leader Christopher Luxon over his speech at Waitangi. 

There can’t be a sentient being in New Zealand who expects straight journalism from Lynch. She appears incapable of it. I no longer watch the Newshub News but I can imagine her reporting the survey findings through gritted teeth.  

The question now is whether the aforementioned elites, having noted the poll findings, will abandon their campaign to have Aotearoa adopted in popular usage. But of course they won’t, because they have little regard for the will of the people and like all elites, are convinced they know what’s best for the rest of us.

They will explain the survey result to themselves by concluding that their fellow New Zealanders are racists. But objections to the use of Aotearoa as a substitute for New Zealand have less to do with it being a Maori name than with the perception that it has been foisted on us without a mandate – just like Otautahi for Christchurch, Tamaki Makaurau for Auckland, Otepoti for Dunedin and Te Whanganui-a-Tara for Wellington. That the public don’t endorse any of these names is clear from the fact that you never hear them in conversation.

Yes, the name New Zealand is an historical anomaly that, in itself, says nothing about us or our national identity. But it's the name we've been known by since James Cook (there was no Maori name for the country, as was demonstrated by the use of Nu Tireni - a transliteration of the English name - by the Maori chiefs who signed a Declaration of Independence in 1835), and to repudiate it is to erase much of our history.

This is not something to be undertaken without a proper, informed debate. As long as New Zealand purports to be a democracy, voters will assert the right to decide what the country and its major cities are to be called. Any government rash enough to challenge that right will be signing its own death warrant.


Anonymous said...

It’s interesting that the poll gave its contributors the option of “Aotearoa - New Zealand” which is a halfway house that would satisfy nobody. But I expect the option was included as a way to push down the number of people who would otherwise just choose “New Zealand”.

If there had been only two choices in that poll, New Zealand would have won by at least 75 percent!

Trev1 said...

"New Zealand" may once have been an historical anomaly but like all words in regular use it has gained a unique significance over the past two centuries. Its associations include many positive and wonderful things that are synonymous with our homeland. It is a key part of my identity. It is the only legitimate name for the nation that came into being in 1840, and Nu Tirani is the Maori version. Do not be fooled by fakes.

Terry Morrissey said...

When the labour and greens cults lose their grip on power, and the corrupt media lose their propaganda fund, how are the media to find any journalists with the slightest modicum of morality to report truth? Or will they just continue as unpaid bottom feeders and keep supporting the woke left with their complete denial of facts?
If the experimental pm had any trace of a decency he would withdraw the bribe to allow a less biased election campaign, but then I may as well wish for the moon.

Unknown said...

Aotearoa is not even a Maori word and definitely not their name for the country. It is a hoax name made up in about 1890. By William Pember Reeves and Stephenson Percy Smith.

Anonymous said...


Don Franks said...

Names change their meaning over time, as they interact with new developments. I recall on first hearing thinking that The Beatles sounded a silly gimmicky name for a band. To me, Wellington carries no association with a British Duke who managed to best Napoleon. New Zealand evokes no distant echo of somewhere in the Netherlands. As an internationalist I have no particular devotion to the name of the global spot I spend most time in. If people want to change this country's name, fine. But change it by free democratic vote, not by force, or worse, by stealth.

pdm said...

Karl the creep to changing names is not limited to the main cities.

In Hawkes Bay a group of activists are pushing hard to change the name of the Clive River to something that is not only unknown but also unpronounceable. What is interesting is that most of those leading the charge have as much Maori blood as I do - zilch.

Tinman said...

I notice SKY z-grade cricket (i.e. the sheilas) coverage had a team labelled ao-whatever playing an international match the other day.

A second reason to quickly look for another channel.

Any government rash enough to challenge that right will be signing its own death warrant.

Unfortunately New Zealand has it's two political parties competing for the chance to tell New Zealanders what to think rather than to lead - that death warrant may take some time to serve.

Phil Blackwell

Eamon Sloan said...

My guess is that a name referendum today would go the same way as the flag decision. The flag referendum was totally a John Key vanity project. Losing the referendum could have been one of the factors encouraging him to resign. The flag issue was finally decided at the end of March 2016 and Key resigned in December. The flag issue will likely not go away. I can recall hearing a British TV commentator suggest that Brexit would become a neverendum.

Anonymous said...

Many of these names are artificial and were never used in the past. A case in point: Otepoti for Dunedin. It was never used for a general human settlement in that area as while there's many Maori settlements there, there's never a single general name to describe all of them. Apparently, at first, it was used for a natural feature but there's no agreement as to which natural feature and where exactly was it located. In any case, the name Otepoti does not appear to have ever been in a general, common use, including among the local Maori people.

The full story of that and many other Maori-language place names can be found in:

"Spurious Maori Placenames of Southern New Zealand" by George Griffiths.
Published in 2002 by Otago Heritage Books.

R Singers said...

I like to annoy the Aotearoa Uber Alles crowd by describing myself as "nga tangata o Nu Tireni". And when they bleat direct them to _He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tirene_ and _Te Tiriti o Waitangi_.

David George said...

New Zealand - "new sea land" seems appropriate for these islands regardless of your ancestry.

David McLoughlin said...

Some good points, as always, Karl. Personally I would be very happy for a name change, but only if agreed via substantial public support in a referendum. I think our existing name -- a misspelling of a province in the Netherlands -- is quaintly absurd. But it was good to see that poll and see what the bulk of we Kiwis think.

the name New Zealand is an historical anomaly that, in itself, says nothing about us or our national identity. But it's the name we've been known by since James Cook

Even longer, Karl. Netherlands mapmakers decided on Nieuw-Zeeland/Nova Zeelandia after Abel Tasman sailed by in 1642 (more than 100 years before Cook arrived in 1769). Zeeland is a Netherlands province and means Sealand in English, but somehow its English translation became New Zealand (a meaningless name) rather than the accurate New Sealand.

Tasman himself named us Staten Landt, thinking we were part of somewhere else entirely. He was nowhere near as excellent a navigator as the amazing James Cook.

Ngā mihi, David (McLoughlin)

Karl du Fresne said...

Thanks David. I realise that the name originated with Tasman, but its modern form (i.e. New Zealand) emerged later.

Michael S said...

I find the left-wing mindset annoying and disturbing. They hate history and want to change things like the name of a country to satisfy their self-loathing and manufactured guilt of historical events that happened before anyone was born.
It isn't just Newshub and the media in general, but also the loud activists.
They are drivers of radical change, unnecessary change, societal/cultural changes that rarely have a practical upside. They often have very loud voices in the media which then gives them traction and momentum. Before you know it, the relaxed majority gradually finding changes imposed upon them against the will of the majority.
Renaming New Zealand is but one example of so many.
Across the ditch in Australia, poll after poll after poll after poll shows the majority of Australians want to keep Australia Day on 26th January. But year after year, bit by bit, the radical activists chip away at the edges until they get their way. They have infiltrated the school curriculum to portray an Australian history that is wildly inaccurate. A young generation of Aussie school children grow up with a negative view of history and no concept of the ACTUAL history of 26th January.
As for New Zealand... keep the name as is. It's mere mention conjures up mental images of beauty.
Karl, I think an earlier article of yours mentioned "imposing language changes on the population". You said that language changes should happen gradually/naturally as new words take root in the everyday conversation. Language adapts over decades. Aotearoa isn't at that point yet.

Anonymous said...

Good point. Another thing that people don’t consider is the huge value we have built up over decades in ‘Brand NewZealand ‘ with our agricultural exports, tourism and sports to name just a few. This ought not to be discarded lightly.

Paul Peters said...

Re the points made by Michael S.
The same will happen here as the education system with its spin on history produces new voters with appropriate guilt and a carefully curated view of history.
The joint naming is a softening up process that enables Stuff et al to use the Aotearoa option only.
As regards New Plymouth, there is good reason for the name, considering where the settlers came from. Ngamotu has never been abolished.
It still applies to the area that was Ngamotu then and is now. However, in the last 20-30 years it has been ''decided'' Ngamotu in fact covers the whole city. Dual names of all state facilities emerged.
Stuff naturally is Ngamotu or Ngamotu New Plymouth , even changing names in the city itself. One activist (''reporter'') referred to the ''former'' Marsland Hill , abolishing the name himself, when it has been recognised with dual names given its history .
The actual Daily News print form here has so few readers they don't say how many . Delivery in my area is now almost zero. Govt depts and hospitals get a few copies. Some old folks (older than me) still get it but yearn for the days when it had news and was relatively fat.
Will National, which tries to straddle the fence, abolish the ''quality journalism fund'' that was designed to support oufits such as Stuff? If it does await the cries of vengeful right-wingers seeking to silence ''free'' media and ''THE Maori voice'', actually only the voice of the hardliners.
What name this country will be in 50 or 100 years one can only speculate; same with the treaty's never -ending claims and rancour. Will we be part of a United States of the South Pacific? Will future wars have an impact, invasions, refugees?
I won't be around. For now, New Zealand seems OK to me

Anonymous said...

Agree entirely. But would the elitists agree. No way. A comment like that based on historical data will be called. ‘racist’ because that’s their go to answer for everything that exposes them.

Anonymous said...


Doug Longmire said...

This joins the long list of public opinion polls asking the public of New Zealand if they (we) are in favour of replacing current place names or voting systems with Maori wards, or names etc.
The response has been consistently - about 70 -90% NO!

GCMC said...

Serious question...

Could Labour just declare, that, henceforth, NZ will be known as Aotearoa...?
Something like Jacinda's "Captain's Call" about oil/gas exploration.
When that happened, I wondered what else the Government of the day could do, without going through the accepted democratic process.

Ross said...

Of course they could. The only problem with that is like all politicians they live and die by the polls. The reason for the unrelenting drive to use Maori names everywhere was to create a sense of inevitability where a majority accepted the name Aotearoa and then the captains call would be made.
Sadly, for them, they seem to have run out of time before that point arrived.

Doug Longmire said...

We are constantly lectured that Maori and Sign language are the only "official" languages of New Zealand.
For me, I will not use these languages at all, because I am neither deaf nor Maori !

The A word for New Zealand is not even a real word.

Eamon Sloan said...

One of my random brainstorms came up with the question: How many countries have changed names recently? This did not turn out to be a wild goose chase after all. A webpage popped up, sponsored by the UK government. A quick scan of the page seems to indicate that very very few have made radical name changes. Many are formal name changes such as The Republic of This or The Republic of That, where original given names are retained. To me The Republic of Aotearoa does not fit at all.

Hilary Taylor said...

Like Karl I regard NZ as a name imbued with history & all that entails, plus the remark of Michael S about it conjuring pleasant imagery. I rather liked 'lifeboat Aotearoa' when our 'tyranny of distance' put us at a safe remove from hotspots historically. I like scanning text for that evocative 'Z'. I like all the variants of pronunciation...eg Bob Jones pronounces it Zelland. I like New Zild.

I just like it.

Wizard of NZ said...

Naming and measuring is controlling.

Karl du Fresne said...

Nice to hear from you Jack, assuming it's you. (Surely there can’t be two of you,)

Kit Slater said...

‘NZ’ has excellent utility in Google searches, and a convenience of abbreviation to match USA and UK, and very few others. ‘Aotearoa’ cannot serve the same purpose, alone or in combination.

‘Aotearoa New Zealand’ seems likely to be a transitional name in the minds of people who use it, with an implicit desire to eventually remove the ‘New Zealand’ part. Google’s Ngram Viewer shows its origin some time in the 1980s, rising sharply since, with data limited to 2019. Meanwhile, ‘New Zealand’ peaks in 1986 and declines thereafter. ‘NZ’ rumbles along at a low level until 1940, peaked in 1996 and has fallen 65% since. ‘Aotearoa’, meanwhile, had its first use in 1851, and was used at low levels until a sharp rise beginning around 1981 at three times the rate of ‘Aotearoa New Zealand’. Note that the Ngram Viewer is case-conscious, and that there may be some technical interpretations needed for the data, for example whether NZ is included in a capitalised Rapunzel.

A factor not mentioned here is that of Maoris ‘gifting’ names to new or existing entities, place names or buildings, a novel phenomenon in my experience. Political systems employ a variety of resources to acquire legitimacy and support from society. Any changes in the political system and sources of legitimacy can fundamentally alter the social world, and even lay the foundations for identity conflict. Applying semiotics to examine the naming process as one of the elements of legitimacy of the partnership model (which may be regarded as transitional by one party) is reflected in the change of names of everyday things and places which includes ‘gifting’.

Unknown said...

Dear Karl and Family
We wish you all the best in NZ..and can see that you are ok
best wishes
Mrs randi Ottosen in Dk

Karl du Fresne said...

Thank you for your message. Please see my reply under your other comment.