The South-West Island, actually

April 22, 2009 § 1 Comment

At the risk of becoming a blog about naming, a new controversy is looming on the landscape of New Zealand. Having satisfied themselves that Wanganui is indeed Whanganui, whatever the breweries say, The Geographic Board have turned their eyes to much larger entities than the aforementioned riverside town.

It turns out, according to the Dominion Post 22 April, 2009 that the geocentric and yet perhaps unlovely names for our two main islands are shock horror unofficial. Yes, The South Island and The North Island.

Don Grant and his team of avid toponymists i.e., geographical name callers are stepping up to the challenge to rectify this problem. They will be touring the country consulting with iwi over traditional names of the two majori islands (Stewart Island retrieved its Maaori, Rakiura name quite a while).

Some of Maori toponyms are well known: Te Ika a Maui – Maui’s fish has long been used to denote the North Island, referring to Maui’s feat of pulling up the island on a fishing line … a feat achieved all over the Pacific by Mauitikititiki, Mausikisiki and his other namesakes across Oceanic culture.

Unsurprisingly, the South Island has been called Maui’s canoe, Te Waka a Maui, but is more frequently called Te Wai Pounamu, referring to the source of the taonga New Zealand jade aka greenstone aka pounamu.

Other names used by English speakers in the early colonial period according to the Dom Post included the equally prosaic and more accurate name (if we account for Stewart Island/Rakiura) – Middle Island. New Ulster was apparently a name for the North Island, while New Munster was the south.

Whatever the board comes up with though, they have made it clear already that this is not a name change, but an addition or an alternative to these longstanding yet (tut tut) unofficial names.

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