Iwi say Wanganui mayor Michael Laws approached them about a compromise on putting an "h" into the city's name, but was told unequivocally there was none.

Mr Laws, who derided as "racist" the NZ Geographic Board's recommendation that Wanganui change to Whanganui yesterday, denies that happened.

Sources said Mr Laws met Whanganui Maori 10 days ago and asked if they would be happy with the city's name being known as "Wanganui/Whanganui."

But the double-barrelled name was unacceptable.

"The kaumatua stood up and said 'we will not compromise because that's how it's supposed to be spelt. This is the right way'." the source said.

"While he [Mr Laws] was saying in public he hated the [Whanganui] idea, he was doing something else behind closed doors."

Mr Laws said he never put the compromise to Te Runanga o Tupoho, which proposed the name change.

"No I didn't, that's not correct. You can't believe anything they tell you."

Asked how the confusion arose, Mr Laws said "who cares?".

But a Wanganui District Council statement criticised the geographic board's decision not to compromise when examples such as Aoraki-Mt Cook existed.

"That the board rejected the dual usage option suggests an agenda that reeks," Mr Laws said. "It has deliberately put Wanganui in a position where we can only resist, and then prevail."

The board's decision was "racist and wrong" because it sought to impose a particular ethnic and cultural view on Wanganui.

Te Runanga o Tupoho spokesman Ken Mair said he was pleased with the recommendation but the final decision still rested with Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson.

"We want to encourage the government to do the right thing and that is to spell our name correctly."

Mr Williamson said yesterday he would carefully consider the board's report before making a decision.

Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori, the Maori Language Commission, says the pronunciation of the h in Whanganui by local iwi is a glottal stop - which can be an imperceptible sound to those not familiar with the language. That did not mean that the h is not there, rather it is a breathed sound.