Misspelled Māori Wellington place names may be fixed

News 12/04/2019

A move to support te reo Māori by the Wellington City Council has prompted a review of Māori place and street names.

As part of the council's policy to "lead the way in making the [Māori] language a core part of the cultural fabric and identity of our city", the spelling of Wellington place and street names are being scrutinised.

The council is working the New Zealand Geographic Board, which is the country's place naming authority.

One of the Wellington suburbs recommended to the council's city strategy committee to have its name changed is Hataitai, which should be spelt as Whātaitai.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester told The AM Show on Friday the name came from a local Māori story.

"The story is that Whātaitai and Ngake, they were the two taniwha and they resided in the harbour"

"They were playing and forced from the harbour into the ocean. Ngake made it through because he was hard-working and resilient, and Whātaitai didn't, so he formed the suburb of Whātaitai in the hills and around Mt Victoria."

Lester said it was important the language was accurate, and if it had been an English street or place with a typo, it would change "pretty quickly".

It doesn't really cost anything, it is more about conversations.

"We talk with our mana whenua, and we ask what is an appropriate name. They come back to us and they think about it, they tell a story about the place, and come back to us with a name."

The Remutaka Hills have also recently had a name change, without much of a fuss.

"The Remutaka Hills, which were always Rimutaka, that has been changed to Remutaka, because it turned out it had a typo as well and the Geographic Board changed that," said Lester.

No unicorns died, it wasn't a big deal, and people just realised we had been spelling it wrong for the last 100 years.

Most changes will only introduce a 'W' into the name, but some places will also be given a dual-name.

"We have said we have a te reo Māori action plan, and we are going to dual-name things when we can, that is more new names, for example, important landmarks," he said.

"Civic Square stays Civic Square, but we also have a new name, Te Ngākau… Likewise, we will end up doing the same with the Botanic Gardens. They will stay the Wellington Botanic Gardens, but we will also have a Māori name, which we will launch later this year."

At a city strategy committee meeting on Thursday, officials said there were no legal and financial risks identified with the naming policy.


The AM Show / Newshub reporter Jamie Ensor