Let’s love our Māori place names!

Earlier this week, Stuff.co.nz published an article about how shortening place names – especially Māori names – can be disrespectful. Personally, I’m thrilled someone has finally spoken up about this practise.

I have always disliked seeing and hearing place names used in a way that the namer never intended. Even back when I was growing up in Glen Innes, Auckland, I was a reluctant ‘G.I’ girl – preferring to go against the crowd and to say the name in full.

These feelings were only heightened when I started my te reo Māori journey 15 years ago. At the time, I was living in Kihikihi just south of Te Awamutu and often heard these two places referred to as KiKi and T.A. While the shortening of these names and other places around New Zealand is often seen as a sign of affection, I can’t help but feel that it also shows a reluctance to put in the effort to try and pronounce words correctly.

I understand that I might come across as somewhat precious. But the thing is, I love how there is so much meaning and history that exists in a place name. Māori names in particular often tell the story of a resource or landmark specific to that place, or recognise a strong ancestor. When we shorten those names we not only lose their literal meaning, but in my opinion, we also disrespect the mana of their story.

On a personal level, I also just love listening to the language when it is spoken. Māori is such a beautiful, rhythmic language. And, best of all, Māori words are really not that hard to pronounce! If you learn to pronounce the vowel sounds and remember to put a break after every vowel, you’ll find that your pronunciation will improve markedly in a very short space of time! And, fortunately for us, we are surrounded by signposts of Māori place names to provide us with plenty of practice.

So while it may be a sign of affection to call a loved one by a nickname – one that symbolises your relationship to them – the same isn’t necessarily true when we shorten place names.

This is why I never considered uttering “The Naki” during my recent visit to Taranaki, and why you won’t hear me calling Waikouaiti “Whack a White”.