What’s in a name?

GRAY CLAPHAM
Not all Gisborne residents support a proposal to recognise the Māori name of Poverty Bay.

It was with a certain amount of dread that I heard that Victoria University of Wellington was to undergo a name change.  With several family members, including my son, having graduated from Victoria, I felt as if I knew what was about to happen. It was going to become the University of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, which of course nobody outside of New Zealand would be able to pronounce. Oh well. At least the University’s complaint that it gets confused with other universities with the same name wouldn’t be a problem then, would it? Or at the very least, it would be the University of Poneke. What annoys me about that is the fact that ‘Poneke’ is a Maori derivative of the original name for Wellington Harbour, which is Port Nicholson. In other words, we can’t have English names, but Maori bastardisation of English names is OK.

But then I found this article on Stuff which shows, as I suspected, that the move to rename everything is well underway and it doesn’t always go down well. Quote:

Poverty Bay has had a bad rap ever since Captain James Cook sailed away in October 1769, noting sulkily in his journal that he gave it that name “because it afforded us no one thing we wanted”.

Two and a half centuries later, Poverty Bay is on the verge of getting a second name, a more felicitous one. The New Zealand Geographic Board is consulting on altering the name from Poverty Bay to Tūranganui-a-Kiwa/Poverty Bay. End quote.

You see, here is the problem. In spite of us all being told we are naughty girls and boys for not learning to speak Te Reo, most of us don’t speak Maori. So, if the place where you live is going to be renamed, the very least that should be done is to make the new name pronounceable. How hard is that?

I mean, let us just stop for a moment and remember what the proposed new name for Hamilton was to be. Kirikiriroa. Yep. That’s a nice easy one, isn’t it? No wonder it went down like a lead balloon with the locals.

But back to Poverty Bay. Quote:

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. End quote.

Yes, the proposed name is definitely too confusing and too long. And the comment about overriding history is dead right too. Poverty Bay has an important historic relevance, because Captain Cook arrived there, and named it as he saw it. Not very flattering, perhaps, but it is an important bit of history anyway. A bit of history that many of us would like to retain. Quote:

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. End quote.

I’m sorry, my dear, but that is not correct. Most people and tourists alike say – “Let’s go to the local museum. What’s it called again? Te Raproha or something? Hang on – let me google it under Gisborne museum”. You know it’s true. Quote:

“Using Māori place names as a starting point for storytelling has enriched our ability to share the Māori histories of the region. We also use Tūranganui-a-Kiwa throughout the galleries and we know that the history and stories associated with this name creates a source of pride for young people in their home.” End quote.

Yes. Except the tourists go home and tell everyone how they had a great time in Gisborne. You know that is true, too. Quote:

Wallace says she wrote in her submission in favour of dual naming that, from her perspective as a Pākehā woman, names matter: “Place naming in Aotearoa was in my view a tool of colonisation. Pākehā using their power to wipe Māori names from a map has done a lot of harm to all of us and we need to repair the damage. End quote.

Damage? Really? Maori can, and do, call things what they like. Quote:

Levin might be next. The name Taitoko was chosen by Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, leader of the Muaūpoko iwi, before it was named Levin after a director of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company. Other directors were named Plimmer, Shannon and Linton, which also became stops along the route.

Horowhenua District Councillor Victoria Kaye-Simmons recently proposed to rename the town Taitoko/Levin but directed Stuff to Marokopa Wiremu-Matakatea, Kaumātua of the Muaūpoko iwi, for comment.

The name Taitoko remained widely known in the area, Wiremu-Matakatea says, and it survived as the name of a local primary school. Despite being unofficial, it stayed in circulation among Māori. End quote.

Never heard of it. Why do we keep having to rename things? Levin, in the Horowhenua District, is a nice mix of English and Maori names. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Add to all of this the fact that nobody can agree on how these names should be pronounced. On the radio the other day, the newsreader was talking about power outages in ….”A-Rod-A-Rooa”. I never knew Rotorua began with an ‘A’. It sounded like someone singing a Puccini opera, rather than someone talking about a town in the North Island of New Zealand.

Anyway, my fears are allayed, as it seems that Victoria University of Wellington  is henceforth going to be called the University of Wellington. Why the change, no one knows. Like I said – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And it ain’t broke.

 


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Accountant. Boring. Loves tax. Needs to get out more. Loves the environment, but hates the Greens. Has been called a dinosaur. Wears it with pride.

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