1 Feb 2019

Man petitions to make 'Aotearoa' official, alongside 'NZ'

From Checkpoint, 5:29 pm on 1 February 2019

Could it finally be time to recognise Aotearoa alongside New Zealand as the name for this country?

While many of us are familiar with Aotearoa, the Māori translation for "the land of the long white cloud", and may even use it on a regular basis, there's nothing officially linking it to this nation.

But one Wellington man is on a mission to change that.

Here's Checkpoint's Nita Blake-Persen with the full report:

Danny Tahau Jobe has launched a petition calling for a referendum to allow New Zealanders to decide whether Aotearoa should be used alongside New Zealand - officially - as the name for this country.

Mr Tahau Jobe said the idea for the petition was sparked when he started making inquiries about why Aotearoa wasn't included on the New Zealand coat of arms.

He was told by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage that it couldn't be on there because it was an emblem of the New Zealand Government.

"That automatically says, as much as Aotearoa is used publically, and used in our official documents, it actually has no official status.

"I've always called this place Aotearoa New Zealand, it's been nothing different to me. Other people call it other things - kei te pai. But it concerns me where our official documents state one thing - our national anthem, our money - it's inconsistent with who and what we are now."

He's got the support of the former Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae, the co-leader of the Green Party Marama Davidson, several leading historians and thousands of New Zealanders.

"People are like, why is this even a question, it should have been done a long time ago, and I'm not sure why it hasn't, and I think this is a good conversation to be having across the country," Ms Davidson said.

Danny Tahau Jobe has launched a petition calling for Aotearoa to be recognised alongside New Zealand.

Danny Tahau Jobe has launched a petition calling for Aotearoa to be recognised alongside New Zealand. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

She said any costs would be minimal and the change might not have to go through the rigmarole of referendum like the flag debate.

"Through an act of Parliament we could actually just do it and the Greens actually have an agreement with Labour in our confidence and supply to uphold Te Tiriti as our founding document, so this could just be part of an ordinary work programme we could just put this through."

Mr Tahau Jobe said the name New Zealand reminded him of travesties of the Treaty of Waitangi - but he did not want to get rid of it all together.

"There's a lot of history there - it's not always pretty but it still has history - and with Aotearoa, it connects everything together, right from the past, right up until now."

Tourists from around the world were not as convinced about adding Aotearoa.

Tourists from around the world were not as convinced about adding Aotearoa. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The government's chief historian, Neill Atkinson, said the country was dubbed Nova Zeelandia by a Dutch map maker in the mid-1600s, and later Anglicised to New Zealand by James Cook when he arrived.

By 1840, it was made official with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. 

"We think about these two traditions of Māori culture and traditions and then the British, mainly English and Scottish element, what's interesting is New Zealand's name actually comes from a different source, it's a Dutch name."

Mr Tahau Jobe said he knew the petition was a long shot, but was hopeful it would spark some discussion and change.

"People who are secure in their identity, have a lot better outcomes and surely from that alone, we must want that. You know, it just builds upon a more cohesive and inclusive society for us all, so for me it's a no-brainer."

The petition, which closes at the end of February, can be accessed here.