Some argue 'New Zealander' is the only apt label - and St' />

What New Zealand's residents should call themselves has long been a hotly debated issue.

Some argue "New Zealander" is the only apt label - and Statistics New Zealand agrees. To a point.

A subtle change in next year's Census will see the number-crunchers collate figures relating to ethnicity in a slightly different way.

Before, when data was divided into major ethnic groups, those who put "New Zealander" or "Kiwi" were lumped under "European".

Now those who respond as Kiwi or New Zealander will be categorised as "Other", as statisticians are no longer happy to assume they are all European.

Statistics NZ general manager Dallas Welch said as society and people changed, there had been a growing trend for people to respond as "New Zealander".

By far the biggest group at the last Census - more than 2.6 million - identified themselves as "New Zealand European".

But more than 80,000 people wrote in "New Zealander" as their ethnicity under the option "Other" - the most responses ever recorded for that entry - adding weight to the argument that "New Zealander" should have its own box on the next Census forms, Mrs Welch said.

She said the jury was still out on whether that was likely to happen.

Ethnicity is loosely defined as a group of people who share common factors such as race, ancestry, culture and religion, and is not seen as the same thing as nationality.

"The concept of ethnicity is blurry, and it's something we have to do a whole lot more work on," Mrs Welch said. 

"Society is constantly changing and people's perception of itchanges with more integration, and intermarriages."

Mrs Welch said the issue required more research, and it was something Statistics NZ was now looking into.

A research and development programme by Statistics NZ has singled out the "New Zealander" response as one of key issues to address in time for the 2011 census.

"[New Zealander] is a distinct group of its own with common characteristics. People's thinking about ethnicity evolves. But it's got to be subject to a lot more discussion."

The change will nevertheless come as good news to people like 25-year-old Nisha Patel.

Born and bred in New Zealand to Indian parents, she identifies as Indian but also wants to register her ties with her country of birth.

"I'm not Pakeha, Caucasianor New Zealand European nor an 'other'.

"I'm simply a New Zealander, and that's what I'd like to be called," she says.