New Zealand on a map via Getty
New Zealand on a map via Getty

How New Zealand got its many names... Danny Watson

Opinion 15/03/2021

Kia ora Whanau, Wednesday the 10th March, earlier this week we had in a very special guest Sir Ian Taylor, from Animation Research that does amongst many other things the graphics for the America's cup.

Google Sir Ian, and you will see his amazing journey and long list of achievements. Having him in the studio with Leah and myself, we had an opportunity to follow up the conversation we had just had with you guys concerning complaints to the BSA, (Broadcasting Standards Authority), about Te Reo Maori being used on mainstream media and in particular on the TV One news.

There were many points raised, however the loudest noise came from a couple of callers outraged at the use of “Aotearoa” for “New Zealand” and our question is: Is any single name correct or do they both have a place? For me I am happy that we are not only recognising that there are some significant and ancient names in this land, but enjoy the fact that we are using them.

Without entering the debate on Aotearoa and/or New Zealand. Thought we could address one of the names of this wonderful country of ours and where it came from. 

The primary source of the name “New Zealand” comes from the map drawn up of these islands by the famous cartographer Captain James Cook.


You will notice on this map that the North Island is “HEINOMAWE” and the South Island “TOAIPOONAMOO”.  Typo or spelling mistake?

Travelling with Cook was Tupaia, a high ranking chief from Tahiti, who acted as Cook's interpreter during this voyage. Tupaia translated and helped Cook with the names placed for him by the locals.  “Te Ika a Maui”, The Fish of Maui, as it was Maui who “fished up” the North Island. He was “the” discoverer” held in the korero/conversations handed down from te ao tawhito/ the ancient world to us.

He caught the fish while standing at the stern/taurapa of his waka, so “Te Waka a Maui”/ The Canoe of Maui. (Introduces another name for the South Island)

“Te Ika a Maui” (The fish of Maui), was a bit jumbled in the spelling/translation and when asked about the South Island they were told that “it was the place where Greenstone was found in a particular water”, (the water of greenstone), “Te Wai Pounamu”, also an interesting interpretation.

While exploring the Southern Ocean and charting Australia, Able Janszoon Tasman drew what may be one of the earliest maps of our coast. Tasman, thinking it was part of South America he called it “Staeten Landt”.

Later, Jaon Blaeu, the official Dutch Cartographer to the Dutch East India Company placed the name Nova Zeelandia, the Latin equivalent of Tasman’s name, Nieuw Zeeland onto their maps. Captain James Cook sailed here with those charts and as a consequence he Anglicized the name Nova Zeelandia into New Zealand. 

The next part of this tale can be found in the historical document, “He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni”,  translated as “The Declaration of Independence''. The name in this document used to describe the country is “Nu Tireni”. A transliteration into Māori from Cooks Chart, New Zealand.

That document, He Wakaputanga, a “Declaration of Sovereignty” (upheld by the Waitangi Tribunal in 2014), was signed by 34 Northern Rangatira on 28th October 1835. More signatures of support were added and by 1839, fifty-two in total signed, all with influence throughout the Motu. (Ngā Motu, another term used for the Islands of New Zealand). Those Rangatira all knew that the wider Eurocentric world would recognise the new name, Nu Tireni.

Confused? You shouldn’t be. Time to teach this stuff in our schools. 

Without going into what name or what names we should use. We’ve only scratched the surface and found four similar yet different names. Nieuw Zeeland, Nova Zeelandia, New Zealand and Nu Tireni. Add the fifth and perhaps we should call it “Staeten Landt? 

By digging deeper into the past what else will we find? See you at mid-day.

Join Danny Watson & Leah Panapa every workday from 12pm-4pm on Magic Talk