In early October, I discovered I will need to learn a new name – Te Waipounamu – which is the Māori name for the South Island of New Zealand where I live. Since living here, I’ve heard the South Island referred to as Te Waka a Māui or Canoe of Māui. Māori mythology refers to Māui as a demi-God with magical powers.

The New Zealand Geographic Board formalised the Māori names for the North and South Islands, which appeared in early Government maps of New Zealand but ceased appearing in the 1950s. The North Island is Te Ika-a-Maui, meaning the “fish of Maui” and the South Island’s Māori name means “the waters of greenstone”. Surprisingly, the names North and South were never made official and the decision to assign alternative names means that New Zealanders are free to use the English or Māori names.

Frankly, I’ve always thought the names North Island and South Island are dead boring and reflect the terms chosen by British settlers rather than the indigenous population. I’ve come to appreciate the richness of the Māori culture and language, so I’ll be using Te Waipounamu when I talk about the South Island. I just have to get the pronunciation right. I’ve got the hang of Te Ika-a-Maui but Te Waipounamu will take more practice.

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