Eveline Harvey

Eveline Harvey is nzherald.co.nz's travel editor.

Laws joins online W(h)anganui debate

Scroll down the page for a list of other NZ place name changes.

Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws writes to nzherald.co.nz's Your Views, weighing in against 'the minority' who want change. Photo / Tracey Grant
Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws writes to nzherald.co.nz's Your Views, weighing in against 'the minority' who want change. Photo / Tracey Grant

Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws has joined the Your Views debate on nzherald.co.nz regarding the New Zealand Geographic Board's decision to add the letter "h" to the city and district's name.

Mr Laws' comments come following days of debate on the issue, which have seen more than 500 people send their views to nzherald.co.nz and a 76 per cent vote against adding an 'h' among the 5000 readers who voted on our poll.

"Let's be clear about that 2006 referendum held in Wanganui, that established the clear views of Wanganui people," Mr Laws wrote.

He said the 55 per cent turn-out "exceeded every local body election turn-out for every major city in NZ" and stressed 82 per cent of the voters backed retaining Wanganui's current spelling.

"Those who clamour for change are an unrepresentative minority," he said.

"They believe that in correcting a perceived wrong, it is OK to create an even bigger one (rejecting a city's heritage of 170 years) and defy democracy to boot."

"One other thing: Maori didn't have a written language. This was gifted them by British settlers and missionaries. They transcribed Wanganui as Wanganui from the earliest instant."

Some agree with Mr Laws' comments: "Wanganui is just fine with me," wrote a reader from Mt Wellington. "All the history books have Wanganui as the spelling. Language evolves, it's not static and common usage is stronger than an academic's decision."

Others support the Geographic Board's decision: "Bombay - Mumbai. Madras - Chennai. Calcutta - Kolkata. Mt Egmont - Mt Taranaki. Mt Cook - Aoraki. Laws is just making himself look like a whool," wrote a reader in Hataitai.

In a statement released on Monday, the Geographic Board's chairman, Dr Don Grant, said there was a valid case to change the name because Wanganui was incorrectly spelt and had never been formally gazetted by the board or its predecessors.

"It is therefore not currently an official New Zealand place name," he said.

"This is about correcting a mistake made more than 150 years ago."

Local iwi group Te Runanga o Tupoho petitioned the board earlier this year to change the name to Whanganui on the grounds that Wanganui was a meaningless word.

A formal period of consultation on the Whanganui decision will begin in mid-May, once the proposed name change is gazetted.

10 other New Zealand place name changes
(As recorded in the New Zealand Gazetteer of Official Georgraphic Names)

* 2005: Mount Parahaki, east of Whangarei, had the spelling of its name corrected to Mount Parihaka.

* 1986: The names Mount Taranaki and Mount Egmont were jointly approved as names for the Taranaki mountain formerly known as Mount Egmont.

* 1971: The island in the Mayne Islands group between Kawau Island and the mainland was confirmed as Takangaroa Island, not "Goat Island".

* 1969: Glinkes Gully, southwest of Dargaville, dropped an 'e' to become Glinks Gully.

* 1967: Nihotupu, southwest of Auckland city, was renamed Waiatarua.

* 1958: The Noisies, a group of islands in the Hauraki Gulf northeast of Rakino Island, were renamed The Noises.

* 1956: The South Island's Renwicktown was renamed to the shorter Renwick.

* 1953: Canterbury's Horndon became Darfield.

* 1939: The Banks Peninsula township of Little Akaroa became Little Akaloa.

* 1930: Gisborne's famous bay was confirmed as being Tolaga Bay, not "Toalgo" or "Tologa".

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