Some New Zealand lawmakers are calling to revert the country’s name back to its indigenous roots, advocating for the Māori word “Aotearoa.”
Aotearoa — pronounced “au-te-a-ro-uh” — refers to the clouds that helped early Polynesian explorers to the island, as told by indigenous oral history.
While the first European contact with indigenous Māori ended in a retreat and the death of four sailors, the Dutch name “Nieuw Zeeland” stuck as “New Zealand” after it became a part of the British Empire.
According to historians, the Māori did not have a name for the entire country, and “Aotearoa” referred to only the North Island.
The name change proposal is not the first for New Zealand. As seen from the Parliament petitions page, there has consistently been a petition each year on the issue starting from 2018 to now.
Citizens can create petitions online, collect signatures and then present them to the House of Representatives. An example from 2019 calling to “include Aotearoa in the official name of New Zealand” is one such case, which resulted in over 6,000 signatures.
There is a section on the site that also tracks the progress of the petition, including when it was created, closed, presented to the House of Representatives and then reported on, which is the time in which a decision was made.
The most recent petition, which is still open for signatures, was launched in 2021 by the Māori Party, asking that Te Reo Māori names be officially restored across the country in the next five years.
The New Zealanders fighting to change the nation’s name claim that the British-originated version is rooted in colonization, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The current petition has more support than ever before, having garnered over 70,000 signatures, and will be put up for a vote in Parliament for potential action.
A name change is not so simple, however, and an opinion poll by market-research company Colmar Brunton shows that over half of respondents surveyed want to keep the name New Zealand.
Still, Aotearoa or Aotearoa New Zealand, a combination of the old and new, are supported by about 40 percent of respondents.
Previously, New Zealanders rejected a new national flag referendum in 2016, with the majority of people voting to keep the current flag. Critics of the flag argued the inappropriate nature of employing the Union Jack design, which is the design of the United Kingdom’s flag.
In the past few decades, the name Aotearoa, either combined with New Zealand or used as a standalone, has become increasingly common, appearing in bank notes, passports and other government documents.
In a joint statement between the U.S. and New Zealand in May, leader Jacinda Ardern was referred to as prime minister of Aotearoa New Zealand.
When asked about a formal name change, a spokesperson for Ardern responded that while a wider use of Aotearoa is welcome, an official change is not being explored by the government.
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