A move is underway to give New Zealand's two main islands
official Maori names as well as to formalise the currently used
names North and South.
The New Zealand Geographic Board says it's time to sort out the names for each island after it was discovered no formal names were ever given to the two chunks of land despite more than 200 years of common usage of those names.
Since discovering the lack of formality in the names, the board will be consulting with the public and iwi on what each island should officially be called.
The board will be writing to iwi throughout the country in the coming weeks to seek the known traditional Maori names for both islands, Chairman Don Grant says.
It expects to be able to publicly consult with all New Zealanders on the names in 2010, he says.
"We have a proposal to change the name of the South Island and the Board decided it would not remove the name South Island but it also recognises the Maori names are a part of our history and therefore be available for all New Zealanders to use as an alternative," says Grant.
For several years the board had been investigating Maori names for the islands and exploring a process for formally recognising alternative Maori names for each island, Grant says.
"Interestingly, while researching this issue, we noted that 'North Island' and 'South Island' are actually not official names under our legislation, despite their common long-term usage," Grant says.
"We therefore want to formalise alternative Maori names and, at the same time, make the naming of the North and South Islands' official."
Alternative naming means that either the English names (North Island and South Island), or the Maori names could be used individually or together, he says.
This differs from dual naming where both names are used together in official documents, such as maps, he says.
The alternative names will allow the board to recognise the historical and cultural importance of traditional Maori names, while still retaining the long-term and commonly used English names, Grant says.
The Maori names Te Ika a Maui for the North Island and Te Wai Pounamu for the South Island appeared on early official maps and documents.
The board's research also showed that Maori names for the islands appeared on the very earliest maps and charts, including those of Captain Cook.
"This is part of our country's history of European exploration and the settlement of New Zealand.
"It was only from the 1950s that Maori names of the two main islands stopped appearing on official maps," Grant says.
The existence of several known recorded Maori names for each island means a lot more work is still to be done to establish the most appropriate names, he says.
Outspoken Maori Party MP Hone Harawira agrees that history needs to be corrected on the names, saying its time for a change.
"Its time to drop the North Island, South Island. Those names don't have any connotation except these people are too dumb to work it out themselves".
Even though saying the new names could be a mouthful for the average Kiwi, it should be official sometime next year.