No-nonsense update fuels controversy

Peter Dowden reviews Place Names of New Zealand.

A. W. Reed and Peter Dowling
Raupo Books, $50, pbk

Names are crucial in defining our identities, preventing persons - for example this book's co-author and its reviewer - from being mistaken for one another.

This book's author, A. W. Reed, and his celebrated pedestrian uncle A. H. Reed, had a publishing namesake, A. E. Reed, a man of Kent, England.

The two small publishing houses ended up in the hands of different book empires, and in this era brand ambiguities are never tolerated.

Penguin Books, owner of New Zealand's Reed Publishing, was forced to change the name in 2007 and chose the Maori translation of its botanical colophon logo, Raupo.

Good keen Kiwi place-name, Raupo.

It is the name of two localities according to this book: one is 24km from Dargaville, in Northland, while the other is 35km from Reefton, in Westland.

The place-name is even more famous as the fictional location of Wal Footrot's farm in Murray Ball's "Footrot Flats" cartoons; it is a pity the book doesn't mention this.

Place Names of New Zealand is one of a long line of reference books from the Reeds, the Fowler and Fowler of New Zealand.

A. W's wit and wordsmithery easily matches the Fowlers': his coy translation of Urenui (16km from Waitara in Taranaki) is "Great courage"; from "Ure: figurative expression for courage".

Dowling's revision, perhaps sadly, updates us with the no-nonsense actual translation.

Current place-name controversies reflect the importance of names to people and peoples.

Dowling uncovers a good quote from early 20th-century linguist-lexicographer Bishop Herbert Williams: "It is no more correct to write and say 'Wanganui' for 'Whanganui' than it is to write and say `Ampstead 'Eath' and plead the example there of the natives."

The authors give "Rimutaka" as a corruption of "Remutaka", fuelling the very latest controversy.

As long as names continue to be such fiercely contested tokens of identity, there will always be place-name arguments, and no doubt they will all be fully covered in the pages of the Otakou Daily Times.

Peter Dowden is a Dunedin reviewer.


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