So the bureaucrats of the NZ Geographic Board have, entirely predictably, decided to change the name of the city of Wanganui. Never mind that the residents of Wanganui overwhelmingly don’t want it changed and the historical case for change is, at best, speculative. They’ve done the politically correct thing and will ensure the city and its businesses incur hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in cost changing everything from street signs to letterheads.
So what is next? Will Petone have to be changed to “Pito-one”, Porirua to “Pari-rua”, and Otago to “Otakou”?
The Maori language is not immutable. Maori themselves have adapted their language to modern times, adding a huge number of new words to the language (such as “kawhe” for coffee) and adapting others where necessary. They have adapted many English words and names for their own use (as such “Poneke” for Port Nicholson). And it is not as if Maori, particularly young Maori, are paragons of usage and pronunciation when it comes to English (yes, it’s “youse bros” I’m talking about).
So, it is a little rich when they come over all indignant and high-handed about a Maori place name has changed marginally over time through common usage, which may be the case with Wanganui (or it simply may be, as I have heard at least one Maori language scholar state, that the word was always pronounced with a “w” sound, not a “wh”).
As other bloggers have been quick to point out, there are far more important problems for Maori to be concerned about such as family violence, criminal offending rates, health and educational achievement.