27 Feb 2024

League fan makes pronunciation guide for Māori and Pasifika names

From Nights, 10:30 pm on 27 February 2024

If you're a fan of Rugby League and the NRL you've no doubt heard commentators mangling the names of Māori and Pasifika players.

Nearly 50 percent of League players have Māori and Pasifika heritage.

While there has been more of an effort made in the past few years to get it right, there are still times when fans are left shaking their heads as a commentator gets it wrong. 

Kiwi league fan Stephen Gallagher is doing his bit to change that. 

Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck following the Warriors Pre-Season Challenge win over the Dolphins.

Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck following the Warriors Pre-Season Challenge win over the Dolphins. Photo: Photosport

Gallagher, who lives in Penrith, has created a comprehensive pronunciation guide to all 510 players listed in the competition's first grade men's teams.

“I see this as a stepping stone in the right direction, it's 2024 and every person, no matter their heritage deserves to have their name said correctly,” he told Nights.

“Being Māori myself and having Pasifika friends and family members, I totally empathise with them about having their names said wrong or their language said wrong. And I just kind of had had enough.”

Last year he spent over a month going through the names of the top 30 players of all the 17 NRL teams. Spelling out those names phonetically and then recording the correct pronunciations.

This year Gallagher has been updating the guide to reflect off-season changes in personnel. It’s the kind of mahi he’d like to see the big Australian broadcasters doing.

"If you're paid to commentate, the least you can do is take the time to learn the name. If your job is to say words out loud, you’d think that you're going to take a little bit of time to get it right, to learn it.”

While he understands that in the heat of a match commentary slips can happen, but commentators have an obligation to get it right, he says.

“You're getting paid to do this, you should absolutely be getting it right. Just like any job, you're not going to go and do it half-assed, you want to make sure you're doing the best.”

Gallagher has been learning te reo, he says.

“I’m learning te reo Maori and immersing myself into te ao Māori and doing things like night classes through the Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

“And just being able to surround myself with Pasifika friends and understanding how their language works, conversing with them and hearing them speak, you pick up little cues about how that's said, or what those two letters should say.”

The Māori versus Indigenous All-Stars game a couple of weeks ago, saw commentators lift their game, he says.

“I feel like they do put a lot of emphasis on that, to get player pronunciation right.

“But then once the regular season comes around, it's like, well, that special cultural game was in the past and now I can just go on with saying it how I've always said it.”

It’s a shame, he says, that it’s taken a keen amateur to take on the job. He has had some contact with Australian media companies interested in his work and has received largely positive feedback on social media for the project, he says.