Story: Place names

Page 5. Local naming

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As exploration reached inland and settlements were created, the new localities were often named after the pioneers, promoters and local landowners. They included:

  • Helensville, named by pioneer John McLeod after his wife Helen
  • Dargaville, laid out by Joseph Dargaville
  • Glen Murray, after local landowner William Murray
  • Morrinsville, recalling the first settlers Thomas and Samuel Morrin
  • Bulls, because English woodcarver James Bull was the original settler
  • Levin and Shannon, after W. H. Levin and G. V. Shannon, directors of the WellingtonManawatu Railway Company which made the towns possible
  • Masterton, Carterton and Martinborough which took names from their founders, Joseph Masters, Charles Carter and John Martin
  • Mackenzie Country, recalling the alleged sheep stealer James Mackenzie who took flocks into that area
  • Lumsden, after a local politician
  • Cherry Farm (no longer used), Chaslands and Catlins, named after local whalers.

Some settlements were named by locals after home places, such as Warkworth, Huntly, Eltham, Cheltenham and Methven. Dannevirke and Norsewood honour the homelands of the early Scandinavian settlers.

King Country is a reference to the Māori king. From the 1860s the king lived in that territory, which lay outside the reach of the colonial government for many years.

‘No New Zealish here’

Someone from England isn’t an Englander, except in a war comic, but in the New World New Englander and Newfoundlander were accepted usages and Kiwis have followed suit with Northlander, Southlander, Aucklander, and New Zealander.

Mountain names

Mountains, passes and rivers were often named after European discoverers, including Buller, Lewis, Haast and Heaphy. James Cook created a precedent of naming places after scientists. Julius von Haast in particular followed suit, as in Davy, Hooker, Humboldt, Lyell and Newton, all mountains in the Southern Alps.

Descriptive names

Descriptive names were used for physical features such as Stony River, Two Thumb Range, Rock and Pillar Range, Old Man Range, Raggedy Range and the Remarkables.

They also identify a number of settlements, for example Riverhead, Gumtown (later Coroglen, after a racehorse), Woodville, Island Bay, Redcliffs, Windwhistle, Riverton and Bluff.

Some region names are descriptive – Northland, Southland and Fiordland for example. Westland is more often called the West Coast, and locals are (West) Coasters, not Westlanders. The name Eastland is only used in tourist information – New Zealanders call it the East Coast.

Regional variations

  • Some roads in Manawatū were originally survey lines and are called ‘Lines’, for example Milson Line, Rangitikei Line and Gillespies Line. It’s not clear why this usage survived, mostly in Manawatū but also in the Wairarapa.
  • ‘Huts’ in Canterbury were simply clusters of dwellings at river mouths, but became place names in their own right, such as Selwyn Huts, Lower Selwyn Huts, Greenpark Huts and Rakaia Huts.
  • Possessive forms of names were common on gold diggings (usually without an apostrophe) or at accommodation houses, Bulls, Bennetts, Fergusons, Camerons, Red Jacks and Humphreys are examples. Others kept an additional word: Scotts Ferry, Russells Flat, Coopers Creek, Gammans Creek and Gabriels Gully.
  • The burn names of tributaries of the Taieri River in Otago – Eweburn, Kyeburn, Gimmerburn and Poolburn – are a reminder of the Scottish word for stream. They were the product of John Turnbull Thomson’s survey in the 1850s. Glen (valley) and Ben (mountain) are also common Scottish prefixes in South Canterbury, Otago and Southland.
  • ‘Bush’ names in Southland are a reminder of long-gone forest. They include Grove Bush, Mabel Bush, Gummies Bush, Heddon Bush, Wreys Bush, Wrights Bush, Spar Bush, Gropers Bush and Eastern Bush.
How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Place names - Local naming', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 February 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 24 Nov 2008