What’s in a name?

I’m writing this month’s blog post from not-so-sunny Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand, just past the one-week point of my New Zealand holiday. Having been a de facto tour guide for my eldest step-son during this journey, it occurred to me there are stories behind each of the Māori names of the places we have been visiting – the story behind the Māori words themselves and the personal story I associate with these places – so here’s a quick run-down:

  • Whanganui – ‘the great harbour’ – probably in reference to its broad tidal lower reaches. This is where I was born. We didn’t visit there on this trip but spoke about it during our visit, in particular that people would regularly call it ‘Wanganui’ in the old days (i.e. the ’60s and ’70s)  – quite lazy really but that’s the way things were back then.
  • Whangamata – ‘harbour of obsidian’ – probably in reference to the hard stones that Māori once gathered on its shore. Whangamata is a holiday town that I’ve been visiting since I was a child, and where my parents moved after they sold up shop in Te Aroha.
  • Te Aroha – ‘place of love’ – the name comes from the Māori name of Mount Te Aroha, upon which a man named Rāhiri once climbed and saw his homeland in the distance and felt a sense of love (aroha) for it. This is the town I mostly grew up in, and the place where I first fell in love with my beautiful wife Lisa.
  • Maunganui – ‘the great mountain’ – also known as Mauao (Mow-ow) – The birthplace of beautiful wife Lisa.
  • Rotorua – ‘two lakes’ or ‘second lake’ – named by the Māori chief Ihenga, the ancestral explorer of the Te Arawa region. Rotorua is where I based myself for many years working as a consultant and also in local government for Rotorua District Council.
  • Whakapapa – a line of descent from one’s ancestors; genealogy. A person reciting their whakapapa proclaims their identity, places themselves in a wider context, and links themselves to land and tribal groupings and the mana (power) of those. The village of Whakapapa is at the base of Mount Ruapehu where we went visiting the snow yesterday. My grandfather grew up in this cold area, which gives the place name even more meaning for me.