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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



European Place Names

Until the New Zealand Geographic Board Act was passed in 1946, there was little uniformity in New Zealand's nomenclature. Place names, particularly those dating from European times, had been bestowed haphazardly and were often duplicated. In general, these names may be classified broadly as follows: (a) Names bestowed by the early navigators and explorers; (b) names associated with or commemorating the work of the early missionaries, whalers, and traders; (c) a large group arising out of organised settlement; (d) a number commemorating people or events in more recent New Zealand history; and (e) names associated with gold mining, or bestowed by the early surveyors.

(a) Names Bestowed by Early Navigators and Explorers

The early navigators gave names to many coastal features when they charted the New Zealand coasts. No fixed pattern was followed in bestowing these and, in some cases, their survival appears to be accidental. Two names which Tasman gave have survived – Cape Maria Van Diemen and Three Kings Islands. Cook left many names on these coasts. Among these are names of his contemporaries, Cape Saunders, Mount Egmont, Palliser Bay; experiences of the voyage, Cape Foulwind, Cape Kidnappers, Poverty Bay, Bay of Plenty, and Cape Farewell; and names of members of his crew, Hicks Bay, Solander Island, and Young Nicks Head. In later times several notable foreign navigators visited these parts. In 1793 Malaspina, the Spanish navigator, named Bauza Island, Point Febrero, and Nea Islands. D'Urville, the French navigator, has left us such names as D'Urville Island, French Pass, Astrolabe Roads, Sauvage Point, and Croisilles Harbour.

(b) Whalers, Traders, and Missionaries

In the early 1800s many coastal features were named by the whalers and sealers who visited these shores. Among these are the Bluff (1803), Dagg Sound (1809), Stewart Island (1809), and Charles Sound (1810). Later, in the 1820s, when they established shore stations, the whalers gave names to many land features. Some of these which survive are Shag River (1829), McDonnell's Cove (1830), and Cornish Head (1839). Guard's Bay is connected with this period. Lambert, in HMS Alligator, named Alligator Head, Port Hardy, Port Gore, and Cape Lambert; while HMS Pelorus (1838) has left its name in the Sound and river of that name. Among the missionaries, Marsden named the Gambier River (now Hokianga Harbour) and Coromandel Harbour, while Leigh named Wesley Dale near Kaeo. Mount Watkin in Otago was named by Johnny Jones after Watkin, the pioneer Methodist missionary. In more recent times the names of some of the early missionaries have been perpetuated in various forms, Marsden and Selwyn as counties, and Taylor as Taylorville, a suburb of Wanganui.

(c) Names Arising from Organised Settlement

Many place names date from early settlement companies and groups. The New Zealand Company preserved a certain uniformity among those names they bestowed in their settlements. In the Port Nicholson district, for instance, the names of the Company's directors, servants, or ships associated with the Company were used, Wellington, Hutt, Somes Island, Lowry Bay, and Oriental Bay being cases in point. At Nelson, where Arthur Wakefield's influence was felt, naval names predominate; for example, Nelson, Collingwood, Stoke, and Bronté (now Mapua). In neighbouring Marlborough the influence was military, and names such as Blenheim, Picton, and Havelock were favoured. The south of England origin of the Taranaki settlement is perpetuated in New Plymouth and Devon Street. As Otago was a Scottish settlement, many Scottish names were given: Dunedin, Clutha, Roxburgh, Teviot, and the Lammerlaws are ready examples. In Canterbury, which was the Company's Church of England settlement, many easily identifiable English place names may be found. Among these are Christchurch, Ashburton, Sheffield, and Winchester. Hawke's Bay, which was settled in the 1850s, preserves many names associated with India and the Mutiny. Examples of these are Napier, Clive, Meeanee, Hastings (after Lord Hastings, the Viceroy), and numerous street names – Simla Avenue, Warren Street, and Outram Road.

Another group of names commemorate special companies of settlers. Among these may be cited Albertland, Cornwallis, Dannevirke, and Norsewood, while the French origin is preserved in many street names of Akaroa. Many individual settlers gave names associated with their homeland to their colonial estates and some of these have passed into official use, such as Miramar and Seatoun (in Wellington), Riccarton, the Avon (Christchurch), St. Kilda, Forbury (Dunedin), and Twyford (Hastings).

(d) Names Commemorating People and Events in New Zealand History

Some of this group are purely descriptive and may have originated by chance. Examples of these are Mill Town (now Milton), Woodville, Inglewood, North Shore, and Mons Sex Millia. Others commemorate early colonists or people who have become famous in the country's history. Cook County, Arthur's Pass, Cass, Mount Hector, Haast, Brunner and Buller commemorate the names of early explorers, while settlers and others are represented by Plimmerton, Martinborough, Petre (now Wanganui), Mairtown (in Whangarei), Carterton, and the Mackenzie Country. The early Governors are well represented by Hobson County, Grey River, Normanby, Ranfurly, Gore, Onslow, and the Bowen Falls. In this connection Mount Bledisloe and Cobham Drive commemorate recent vice-regal representatives. Political figures are also to the fore in such names as Dargaville, Gisborne, Ormond, Seddon, Foxton, Featherston, Rolleston, Herriesville (in Te Aroha), Vogeltown, Greytown, (Wellington and New Plymouth), Ballance, and Glen Massey. Historical incidents, especially those connected with recent wars, are well represented among street names. In general, however, people or incidents who would once have given their names to towns must now be content to be commemorated by streets, parks, buildings, or physical features.

(e) Names Associated with Gold Mining, Surveyors, and Explorers

Many names surviving from the gold-mining era are associated with scenes of the principal rushes. Some commemorate the diggers who made strikes (Gabriel's Gully, Arthur's Point, Ross, Addison's Flat); some are the miner's descriptions of localities, such as Canvastown, Ophir, and Reefton; while others are quaint names bestowed by the diggers, Napoleon's Hill, Dry Bread, Roaring Meg, Gentle Annie, and Vinegar Hill.

The early surveyors followed no fixed pattern when giving names to districts and geographical features and often depended upon the whim of the moment for their inspiration. A surveyor who was hard put to find names might use those from classical mythology, or of the members of his survey team, or the characters of a book he was reading. Alfred Domett's penchant was for poets, hence the street names of Napier. W. T. L. Travers favoured the Crimean War, thus Raglan and St. Arnaud. Haast recorded many names from Austria (Franz Josef Glacier), and so forth. In general, the surveyors were responsible for naming the land blocks or early subdivisions, and many of the names they gave have since passed into common use, Lake McKerrow, Eglinton River.