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Board to publicly consult on ‘h’ in Wanganui

New Zealand Geographic Board to publicly consult on ‘h’ in Wanganui

30 March 2009

The New Zealand Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa (the Board) has decided to seek the New Zealand public’s views on a proposed name change from Wanganui to Whanganui.

As the national place naming authority, the Board is required by law to consider proposals to assign, alter, approve or discontinue names for geographic features and places, including cities.

The Board received a proposal to change the place name of Wanganui to include an ‘h’ (Whanganui) on 12 February 2009. The proposal was submitted by lawyers McCaw Lewis Chapman, acting for Te Rūnanga o Tupoho. The Board considered the proposal at its meeting on 27 March 2009.

Based on the Board’s statutory function to examine the spelling of place names, and to collect and encourage the use of original Māori place names, the Board has decided to proceed to the public notification stage of the process.

This means any member of the public will be able to have their say, whether supporting or objecting to the proposed change, said Board Chairperson Dr Don Grant.

“The Board feels there is a valid case made to change the spelling of the name of the city, and that the public should be given an opportunity to make their views known directly to the Board,” he said.

“Wanganui, the name given to the town to reflect its position near the mouth of the Whanganui River, was spelt incorrectly and has never been formally gazetted by this Board or its predecessors. It is therefore not currently an official New Zealand place name.”

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The Board obtained advice on the Māori place name spelling from Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission). The current use of ‘Whanganui’ in the associated river name, the parliamentary electorate, and in some business names in the city was also a consideration. The Board also re-confirmed the 1991 decision to correct the river name.

The Board carefully considered the Wanganui District Council’s views opposing the spelling change, and acknowledged that the name ‘Wanganui’ had a long history of local usage.

However, Dr Grant said early settlers clearly intended the name of the city to be derived from the Māori name of the river, and consistent modern usage of the language showed the spelling should be Whanganui, not Wanganui.

“While the Board acknowledges the historical transcription was based on the local pronunciation, the mechanics of standardising a previous unwritten language, together with its full meaning/translation, signal that the name was intended to be ‘Whanganui’. This is about correcting a mistake made more than 150 years ago.”

Dr Grant said this was a matter of spelling, not pronunciation. The Board noted that while the ‘h’ was silent in historical usage, many English words and place names had silent letters – for example the ‘k’ and the ‘g’ in the ‘Poor Knights Islands’.

The Board noted the results of a referendum held in 2006, when a considerable number of Wanganui residents indicated their preference to retain the current spelling. However, the Board was conscious that declining the proposal at this point would not allow views both for and against to be expressed by other Wanganui residents and the wider rural Wanganui community, and also nationally by the New Zealand public. Proceeding to the public notification stage would gauge a fuller response.

This was the first time the Board had received a proposal to change the name of a New Zealand city, Dr Grant said. The Te Rūnanga o Tupoho proposal was comprehensive and well-researched.

“This is an issue of great importance to many, so the Board felt it important to allow the New Zealand public a chance to comment.”

A formal period of consultation will begin in six weeks, when the proposed name change is gazetted, and the public will be informed through notices in national and local newspapers and publications.

Members of the public will then have three months to make submissions supporting or objecting to the proposed name change by email, fax or post, to the Board’s secretariat. If a person objects to the proposal, they can suggest an alternative proposal or support the existing name.

“There has already been much public debate on the Wanganui name issue, so we expect that three months will allow people enough time to submit their views for the Board’s consideration,” Dr Grant said.

The next meeting of the Board is likely to be held in September or October 2009.

For more information see:

* Frequently asked questions about public submissions on Wanganui (proposed to be Whanganui)
* Consultations & Decisions
* and About the New Zealand Geographic Board.


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