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.