There are those who want to change the name of New Zealand

There are those who want to change the name of New Zealand

“New Zealand” is a geographic name coined in the 17th century by Dutch explorers who were inspired by the name of a region in the south-west of the Netherlands, specifically Zeeland. Two centuries later, the archipelago that we know today by that name was colonized by the British Empire, which decided not to introduce a new toponym (unlike Nieuw Amsterdam, modern-day New York), but to keep the one already used by Europeans. Today, however, a group of New Zealand parliamentarians want to change it and replace it with a Maori word called “aotearoa” to better respect the country’s history.

“Aotearoa” is pronounced as it is written and, until the early twentieth century, referred to the North Island, one of New Zealand’s two main islands, home to the capital, Wellington, and Auckland, the most populous city. Today, however, the Maori, descendants of the colonized indigenous people, also use the name to refer to the South Island, it appears often in everyday conversation and is already present on banknotes, passports and government documents. Etymologically, the word refers to the clouds which, according to oral traditions of Maori culture, helped the first Polynesian navigators find the archipelago.

The proposal to rename New Zealand ‘Aotearoa’, the subject of a petition gathering more than 70,000 signatures (the country has a population of 5 million), was tabled in Parliament in June and is under consideration by a commission. This decides whether it is subject to a parliamentary vote, whether a referendum is held or whether it is rejected.

“It would be a way of realigning ourselves with who we are as a nation,” said Rawiri Waititi, one of the leaders of the Māori Party, a small party that signed the petition. “It’s nothing to be afraid of .” According to the proponents of the proposal, the name “New Zealand” refers to only a small part of the country’s history and does not reflect the evolution of its identity since the mid-1970s when state and society recognized Maori culture and led to it instituted a system to compensate the descendants of indigenous peoples for what the British colonizers had taken from their ancestors.

Today only 20 percent of ethnic Maori speak the Maori language, that is only 3 percent of the total New Zealand population, and according to Waititi it will be possible to make it more visible in order to preserve and continue to use it. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has always advocated greater use of “aotearoa,” but her government has never proposed officially changing the country’s name.

A survey by market research firm Colmar Brunton says more than half of New Zealanders would prefer to keep their current name; about 40 percent will be split between those who want to change it to “Aotearoa” and those who want to change it to “Aotearoa-New Zealand”. Among those opposed to the proposed change, some say that “aotearoa” is a modern invention, despite the term appearing in New Zealand newspapers as early as the mid-19th century. There are also those who think that because the world knows New Zealand by that name it is divisive or that it might harm tourism.