It's Whanganui and Wanganui

By Claire Trevett

Michael Laws. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
Michael Laws. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

Wanganui is to be given its "h" back in a compromise under which Government agencies will have to follow the new spelling but others will have a choice.

Land Information minister Maurice Williamson will visit Wanganui today to announce his decision on whether it will become Whanganui.

This follows a sometimes-acrimonious public debate on the issue and a Geographic Board recommendation to insert the "h".

The Herald understands his solution will be similar to the compromises that created Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Egmont/Mt Taranaki, making Wanganui and Whanganui official names.

It means people will have a choice of which spelling they use, but Government agencies will be told to start including the "h" as soon as they can.

It is not known whether the local council will be expected to use the "h".

The decision is partly pragmatic - businesses in the town use a mix of Wanganui and Whanganui, and two referendums on the issue, in 2006 and this year, were strongly in favour of keeping the spelling as Wanganui.

Mayor Michael Laws mentioned the split name as a possibility when disputing a Geographic Board decision that Whanganui was the correct name.

The application to change the name to include the "h" was made in February by Te Runanga o Tupoho.

The Geographic Board recommended the spelling should be changed to the Maori version, Whanganui. However, the final decision was for Mr Williamson to make.

The minister will tell Mr Laws of his decision an hour before making it public.

Mr Laws said last night that it would be a huge day for the city because the New Zealand Rugby Union was also going to announce the host cities for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

He said he didn't know anything about either decision.

"I am appreciative of the fact that Maurice Williamson is coming to Wanganui to make that decision.

"He is doing it in person, fronting up, and not leaving it to a press secretary to relay."

Earlier, Mr Laws said it was the clear desire of the Wanganui people to keep the spelling as it was, and the Geographic Board's decision was wrong.

"Obviously, it is the desire of Wanganui people that their democratic decision is upheld.

"Locals voted four to one in favour of retaining our name, mana and identity," the mayor said.

The board's decision said Wanganui was a spelling mistake made 150 years ago when the town was named to reflect its position near the mouth of the Whanganui River.

It was spelt incorrectly and had never been formally gazetted, so it was not an official New Zealand place name.

KEN MAIR
Tupoho spokesman

"We applied to the board and got the 'h' added to Whanganui River. The district health board listened to us, and we now have the Whanganui District Health Board.

"But it's not enough. We need this city to be renamed Whanganui as well."- May 2008

MICHAEL LAWS
Wanganui Mayor

"Unlike the application in the early 1990s to rename the river, this council will not stay silent.

"We will uphold the city's name after 150 years of being spelled this way.

"In addition, the local Maori pronunciation renders the "h" silent anyway."- May 2008

- NZ Herald

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