New Wanganui mayor unsure about 'h'

By Hayden Donnell

Whanganui Mayor Annette Main. Photo / Whanganui Chronicle
Whanganui Mayor Annette Main. Photo / Whanganui Chronicle

Whanganui's new mayor doesn't want to commit her Council to putting a controversial 'h' in its name.

Mayor Annette Main is undecided about what to do once Parliament passes expected legislation establishing a dual name for the North Island town.

Her organisation is currently listed as Wanganui District Council.

"My personal view is that people's different schools of thought should be respected," says Ms Main.

"There's an h in Whanganui. It stands for heart. I'm interested in putting the heart in Whanganui."

That may mean the establishment of a Whanganui/Wanganui District Council, she says.

"We've seen dual names with Maori and English spellings in other places in New Zealand. I respect the decision to use either/or.

"It's something to look into."

The New Zealand Geographic Board recommended in September last year that Wanganui's name be changed to Whanganui.

Its decision noted that the town was meant to be named for its placement on the Whanganui river.

That sparked a fiery debate between Ms Main's predecessor Michael Laws and local Maori over the spelling of the town's name.

Mr Laws argued the name 'Wanganui' had passed into common usage and had cultural value.

Maori including Tupoho activist Ken Mair said spelling the name incorrectly was disrespectful.

In December, Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson annouced a compromise allowing Whanganui residents to adopt the spelling they preferred.

Only Governement agencies would be required to put an 'h' in their name.

Ms Main says she personally knows the town as Whanganui, as she lives on the Whanganui River and her road name contains the word 'Whanganui'.

But her 81-year-old father has always known the town as Wanganui and she wants to respect that.

"I think the conflict was exaggerated at the time by many people. It doesn't feel like that to me.

"This is a wonderful story about how a town has two schools of thought."

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