Sunday 11 August 2019

New Zealand Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest New Zealand cities.

Auckland was named in 1840 by William Hobson, Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand. He chose the name of George Eden, Earl of Auckland and British First Lord of the Admirality. His title came from Auckland in Durham, correctly Bishop Auckland to show the area was held by the Bishop of Durham. The main part of the name comes from Cumbric, describing 'the rock on the Clyde'. Today the local river is the Gaunless but changes in river names and even different names for the same river were not only common in history but to be expected. Further details on the place name can be found in my County Durham Place Names. For the Maori this was known as Tamaki Makaurau, or 'Tamaki with a hundred lovers' and a reference to a fertile place where many rivers converge.

Wellington is named after Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. His name chosen in 1840, not because of his earlier victory at Waterloo but, for his support for the New Zealand Company and their principles of colonisation. His title comes from the Somerset town, a name meaning 'the farmstead associated with a man named Weola'. Further details on the place name be found in my Somerset Place Names. For the Maori the area now occupied by the modern city had been known by three names. Te Whanganui-a-Tara, this the harbour area, refers to 'the great harbour of Tara'; Poneke is the transliteration of Port Nick or Port Nicholson, the central and sacred part of the city; and Te Upoko-o-te-Ika-a-Maui or 'the head of the fish of Maui' and a reference to the demi-god who is said to have fished the island from the sea.

Christchurch officially took its name on 27 March 1848. Founder John Robert Godley suggested uit as he was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. The Maori know the place as Otautahi 'the place of Tautahi', a seasonal home of chief Te Potiki Tautahi and known as such since the 1930s. Earlier the name of Karaitiana, a transliteration of the English 'Christian'.

Hamilton was found 24 August 1864 by Colonel William Moule, who named the place to honour Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, commander of HMS Esk, killed at the Battle of Gate Pa, Tauranga in 1864.

Tauranga retains its original Maori name, it refers to the natural harbour as 'the place of rest or anchorage'.

Napier is today officially joined with Hastings, but as a place name it stands alone. It is named after the British army officer General Sir Charles Napier (1782-1853).

Hastings is a name transferred from the place on the south coast of England which comes from 'place of the family or followers of a man called Haesta', further information can be found in my East Sussex Place Names. However the name was brought here as a personal name, he Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of Bengal. Some sources suggest the place had earlier been known as Hicksville, named after Francis Hicks who bought a one hundred acre plot which now forms the centre of the city.

Dunedin is another colony established by the New Zealand Company, here many came from Scotland and they chose to name the place for the Gaelic name for Edinburgh Dun Eideann and meaning 'the stronghold of Eidyn'.

Palmerston was known as Papa-i-Oea, 'how beautiful it is', until colonists arrived in the middle of the 19th century and renamed it in honour of Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston who served two terms as Britain's prime minister.

Nelson is, somewhat predictably, named after Admiral Horatio Nelson. Yet he is not the only combatant at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, many roads and areas in the city also remember people and ships involved in the defeat of the French and Spanish fleets. The Maori name is Whakatu and means 'build, establish, raise'.

Rotorua takes its name from the Maori Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe 'the second great lake of Kahumatamomoe', he the uncle of the Maori chief Ihenga and this the second great lake he discovered and thus named to honour his uncle.

Whangarei is another Maori name, it is derived from two words whanga 'harbour' and rei 'cherished possession'.

New Plymouth, named because it was not the original, took its name from the English city as this was where the first English settlers both migrated and arrived, just as had happened with North America. Plymouth has a rather complex origin, one explained in detail in both my Cornwall Place Names and South Devon Place Names. Briefly, it is named as being at the mouth of the River Plym, itself named for Plymstock. The Maori name was Ngamotu.

Invercargill is a created 'Scottish' place name, where the Gaelic inbhir, used in a number of Scotland place names and meaning 'river mouth' precedes the surname of Captain William Cargill, then the Superintendent of Otago.

Whanganui is the modern accepted spelling, officially changed in 2009 from Wanganui although both spellings are acceptable. The Maori whanga nui means 'big bay' and retained its original name even though the New Zealand Company called it Petre after Lord Petre who worked for the company.

Gisborne was known to the Maori as Turanga-nui-a-Kiwa or 'the great standing place of Kiwa'. In 1870 the name changed to Gisbourne to honour New Zeland Colonial Secretary William Gisborne (1825-1898).

Haast was named after Julius von Haast, a German geologist who was knighted for his services to geology in New Zealand.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.


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