Our names are a critical part of our identity. They are a personal and social anchor tying us to our families, our culture, our history and place in the world.
For Mori, a name is intrinsic to, and linked by, our whakapapa (genealogy), often reflecting the elements observed, such as a river (awa), at the time of birth before entering Te Ao Mrama, the world of life and light.
In law, names matter too. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Aotearoa New Zealand accepted in 1993, states that every child has the right to a name. The law governs the naming of individuals as well as the changing of names.
But no such laws exist for countries. Nations can and do change their own names (such as when they gain independence), or have them changed by others (such as after a war). What worked for an earlier generation may not for later ones, as national values and identities evolve.
This is the challenge presented in a petition organised by Te Pti Mori (Mori Party). As well as calling for Aotearoa to become the countrys official name, the party also wants to restore all original Mori place names by 2026.
As these and other lands were colonised, so too were their original place names, with the colonisers seeking to assert their authority and versions of history.
Power, the politics of language and the naming of places are all closely related. As the old saying goes, the namer of names is the father of all things.
Many European explorers preferred to name what they discovered after something they were familiar with. New York was named by the British after they defeated the Dutch, who had named their settlement New Amsterdam, part of the region they called New Netherland.
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Before the arrival of the Dutch and British, the wider area was called manahhtaan, from the Indigenous Munsee language of the Lenape people, which lives on in the name Manhattan.
Closer to home, the Dutch name New Holland was slowly phased out in the early 19th century by the colonial authorities in favour of Australia, from the Latin Terra Australis (Southern Land), a reference to the mythical great unknown southern land terra australis incognita.
Over the years there have been various petitions and attempts to change the name of New Zealand, including in 1895 a call to officially adopt Moriland, already a common unofficial name for the country.
When Abel Tasman sighted these well-populated shores in 1642, he called the place Staten Land in the belief it was somehow connected to an Isla de los Estados (Staten Island) in what is now modern Argentina.
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Later, however, a Dutch East India Company cartographer conferred the name Nieuw Zeeland (or Nova Zeelandia in Latin).
Zee in Dutch translates as sea, and its English etymology is complicated. It seems to be of Gothic origin, emerging from Germany, and was adopted into the languages of Northern Europe where, for example, Sjlland (sea-land) described a place closely connected to the sea.
Our country was not named directly after the link between land and sea, but rather after the Dutch place that already had this name specifically, Zeeland in the south-west of the Netherlands. Forts in modern-day Taiwan and Guyana were also called Zeelandia by early Dutch explorers.
When James Cook arrived in 1769, Nieuw Zeeland was anglicised to New Zealand, as can be seen in his famous 1770 map. Cook renamed Te Moana-o-Raukawa as Cook Strait, and imposed dozens more English place names.
He did, however, attempt to retain Mori names for both main islands: his map records Eaheinomauwe (possibly He-mea-h-n-Mui, or the things Mui fished up) for the North Island and T Avai Poonamoo (Te Wai Pounamu, or greenstone waters) for the South Island.
The first reference in legislation to New Zealand was in the Murders Abroad Act of 1817, passed by parliament in England in response to increasing lawlessness in the South Pacific including the maltreatment of Indigenous sailors aboard European ships.
Paradoxically, perhaps, the act demonstrated a British view that New Zealand was not truly part of the British realm.
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By 1835, a number of iwi (tribes) engaged in international trade and politics were using the name Nu Tireni to describe New Zealand in their correspondence with Britain.
Nu Tirene then appeared in the 1835 Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, and then Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840.
The Mori Legal Corpus, a digitised collection of thousands of pages of legal texts in te reo Mori spanning 1829 to 2009, contains around 4,800 references to Nu Tirene, Niu Tirani and Niu Tirene.
The translation into te reo Mori of the Maori Language Act 1987 refers to Niu Tireni, as does the Mori Language Act 2016.
Read more: Let's choose our words more carefully when discussing mtauranga Mori and science
The precise origin of the composite term Aotearoa is not known. But if we translate Ao as world, tea as bright or white, and roa as long, we have the common translation of long bright world or long white cloud.
Sir George Grey used Aotearoa in his 1855 Polynesian Mythology, and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race, and in his 1857 Mori proverbs work, Ko nga whakapepeha me nga whakaahuareka a nga tipuna o Aotea-roa.
The Mori Legal Corpus mentions Aotearoa 2,748 times, with one of the earliest written references being Wiremu Tamehanas hui invitation to other chiefs in October 1862.
The popularity of Aotearoa can be gauged from William Pember Reeves 1898 history of New Zealand: The Long White Cloud Ao Tea Roa.
Today, government departments commonly use Aotearoa, and it appears on the national currency. One of the commonest expressions of personal and national identity is the Uruwhenua Aotearoa New Zealand passport.
Whether enough New Zealanders want a formal change isnt clear. A recent poll showed a majority wanting to retain New Zealand, but a significant number interested in a combined Aotearoa New Zealand.
Nor is there consensus on Aotearoa being the best alternative, with some debate about whether the name originally referred only to the North Island and Aotearoa me Te Waipounamu being used in the south.
At the same time, there is a growing awareness of te reo Mori (as an official language, including among Pkeh) and understanding of our national names and their significance. This allows us to better understand where we have come from and where we want to go.
By also acknowledging Mori names, we give substance to our distinctness as a nation. In time, perhaps, it will lead to us embracing a name that better reflects our history, our place in the world and our shared future.
Originally posted here:
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