Time up for New Zealand's antiquated name

Perhaps the only one of our national institutions that has never been assessed critically by any official reviewing committees or government organisations is New Zealand's name.

I can see no reason why our country's name should remain exempt from critical scrutiny.

I should therefore like to see the Government launch a critical review to determine whether the centuries-old name New Zealand is still a valid, suitable and satisfactory name for our country today, or whether it should now be replaced by a more appropriate name.

New Zealand was named 350 years ago by Dutch map-makers and their employers, the Dutch East India Company, after the province of Zeeland, on the western coast of the Dutch republic (now known as the Netherlands).

The literal meaning is that our country is a new Zeeland; that is, a newly-discovered territory that allegedly resembles, or has some connection with, the province of Zeeland, in the Dutch republic.

The inclusion of a reference to a province in the Netherlands in New Zealand's name overemphasises the importance of the visit to New Zealand of the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in the 17th century. Tasman's visit was no doubt a notable event, but it was not the only significant milestone in the early history of New Zealand.

When that visit is considered in the light of 1300 years or more of New Zealand history and prehistory, the Dutch explorer's visit to our shores was not really important enough to justify retaining the name of a province in the Netherlands as the main feature in our country's name.

I have seen no indication that New Zealanders have any special interest in the province of Zeeland.

Few New Zealanders have ever visited the province in the Netherlands after which New Zealand was named, or have any intention of doing so.

Apart from the fact that Zeeland's name is one of the components in our country's name, Zeeland has little importance in itself for most New Zealanders.

There is no good reason why the name of a little-known province in the Netherlands should continue to have pride of place in the name of our country.

The spelling of Zealand in New Zealand's name is highly questionable, as Zealand is not the correct spelling of the name of the province in the Netherlands after which New Zealand was named.

The correct spelling is Zeeland, as is indicated on the map of the Netherlands published in The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World. Zealand, in New Zealand's name, is a quaint, antiquated, non-standard spelling of Zeeland.

Well-informed writers no longer use the spelling Zealand when referring to Zeeland in the Netherlands.

Because of the substantial amount of Dutch content, New Zealand's name seems to me to be more Dutch than it should be.

A home-grown name such as Aotearoa would now be much more appropriate than the partly Dutch name New Zealand.

As we assess New Zealand's name, we should remember that Maori were living here hundreds of years before the Dutch explorers in 1642.

Furthermore, Maori is one of our country's official languages, but Dutch is not.

New Zealanders should consider adopting another name for our country that is less Dutch, and more distinctively Kiwi.

One of the problems we would face is the fact that the name New Zealand is embedded in the Treaty of Waitangi.

The name is also, of course, embedded in our statutes. The solution to this problem may consist in passing legislation declaring thatthe new name is henceforth to be read in place of all references to New Zealand in our statutes and in the Treaty of Waitangi.

No doubt consultants are available who have the legal expertise needed to develop solutions to any problems of constitutional law which might arise in the process of changing New Zealand's name.

New Zealanders have never been consulted about the choice of a name for our country.

The Dutch named our country after one of their provinces without any discussion with Maori to ascertain whether the name selected by the Dutch was acceptable to the people living here in the 17th century; and when New Zealand became a British colony in the 19th century, there was no discussion between the British authorities and Maori on the specific issue of selecting and approving a suitable name for this country. Public consultation to approve the choice of a name for our country should take place as soon as possible.

As a first step, the Government could set up a committee of inquiry or a royal commission to receive submissions from the public commenting on whether New Zealand should have a new name or not; and if so, what our country's new name should be.

After the committee of inquiry has analysed the submissions received and has published its report, a referendum could be held, giving New Zealanders the opportunity to choose a suitable name.

Legislation would then be introduced in Parliament to give statutory effect to New Zealand's new official name.

There are many examples of countries that have undergone changes of name.

Australia was once known as New Holland, a name which, like our own country's name, referred to a province in the Dutch republic.

Most Australians would probably agree that discarding the old name, New Holland, was the right decision.

Other examples of countries that have changed names are Thailand (previously Siam) and Sri Lanka, which some years ago was known as Ceylon.

New Zealand's name is an outdated relic of our pre-colonial past.

In my view, our country's name is long overdue for critical scrutiny, rationalisation, modernisation and reform.

The name New Zealand should be decommissioned like an old navy frigate that is withdrawn from its official duties after a long, honourable and useful life of service to the nation. - George Holmes.

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