11 Jan 2019

Some top names for Māori newborns shouldn't be on list - cultural advisor

7:13 am on 11 January 2019

What's in a name? That's the question some Māori are pondering, following the release of last year's top baby names.

Newborn baby feet with identification bracelet tag name.

Photo: 123RF

The top Māori girl's name Mia has raised eyebrows over whether it can be classified as a Māori name, with one te reo expert saying that a number of the names could be from different cultural origins.

Meanwhile, a Māori cultural adviser is calling for the names Mia and Nina to be removed from the list.

While the top boys name Nikau has topped the list for the last few years, Mia, which could be short for Heremia, is a new entry.

The Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages Jeff Montgomery said the list of Māori names was put together with the help of the Māori Language Commission, Te Taura Whiri.

"They let us know which names could be Māori names and Mia was one of those, as was Nina, but also acknowledging that they could be names in other languages as well, so they're names that could potentially be Māori names and they're names in te reo, but they're not necessarily Māori children or the parents didn't necessarily mean to give them a Māori name," Mr Montgomery said.

But Māori cultural adviser Karaitiana Taiuru doesn't believe that Mia should be on the list.

"M-I-A definitely could be a Māori word or name, but I think the implications are if someone names their baby Mia and believes it's a Māori name that child could end up in some embarrassing situations, not knowing what the whakapapa of the name is. Definitely a lot more caution needs to be taken," he said.

Mr Taiuru said the situation was reminiscent of Huggies removing a list of Māori baby names from its website in March.

At the time, Mr Taiuru complained that some of the names were not Māori, were incorrectly translated, and gave advice that included picking a Māori name that wasn't too long or hard to pronounce.

He wants the Department of Internal Affairs to remove Mia and Nina from the list.

A lecturer in Māori Studies at Victoria University, Vini Olsen-Reeder, said parents should be free to create new names but measures should be put in place to check the names were authentic.

"I'm definitely not a purist when it comes to most language issues, but I would also say that it might be really good to put some boundaries around the criteria that we're using to produce these names and if that is contacting parents and saying 'hey can you tell me about why you named your child this?", the lecturer said.

He said the names Mateo and Te Ariki that appeared on the Māori boys list could be Pacific names, while Ari could be of European origin and Kora from Japan.

"It's one of the things coming back to whakapapa that worries me, is if we're kind of saying these are all Māori names then there's the potential there for that to detract from somebody else's whakapapa that might be Japanese or might be Italian or might be something else, where the orthographies can look the same," he said.

Mr Olsen-Reeder said he didn't understand why there needed to be separate Māori and non-Māori lists, which could come at the expense of accuracy or excluding other cultures.

The Māori Language Commission has not responded to requests for comment.