Story: Place names

Page 6. Naming after 1920

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Most place naming occurred before the First World War (191418). Most new place names since then have been for streets and suburbs.


There is little evidence that the two world wars led to German or German-sounding place names being changed, unlike in South Australia. However some new street names commemorated the wars. Karori in Wellington has Birdwood, Chaytor, Flers, Messines, Scapa and Verviers for streets laid out (or re-named) in the 1920s, and Montgomery, Victory and Alamein for streets laid out in the 1950s and 1960s. Road names in farm areas opened up in the 1950s between Rotorua and Taupō include Crete, Galatos, Maleme, Alamein and Sangro, all commemorating episodes in the Second World War.

The famous

There is a scattering of later political names – Massey, Glen Massey and Coates(ville) are at least settlements, while Savage, Fraser, Nash and Holyoake only get the occasional street named after them. Even governors-general fare poorly, though there are Cobham Drives in Hamilton and Wellington and Fergusson Drive in Upper Hutt. The streets of Kawerau, laid out in the 1950s and 1960s, recall governors, governors-general and prime ministers. Edmund Hillary is one New Zealander who triggered naming in the post-Second World War era. British wartime leader Winston Churchill prompted Wellington’s Churchill Drive and neighbouring streets.

One name or two?

Naming places after a person’s surname was standard through the 19th and much of the 20th century. But from the late 20th century local authorities have chosen to commemorate individuals with full names. Near Auckland Airport are streets named George Bolt, Tom Pearce, Cyril Kay and Andrew McKee.

20th-century namers

An Honorary Geographic Board of New Zealand was established in 1924 by the Minister of Lands to advise on place-name questions. An official body, the New Zealand Geographic Board, was established in 1946 and affiliated with the Lands and Survey Department, now Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). It assigns place names for small urban settlements, localities, mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, harbours and any other natural features throughout New Zealand.

Streets and roads are named by local authorities. National parks and reserves are named by the Department of Conservation, which consults with the Board. There is scope for individual initiative, especially in wilderness areas. In 1971 geologist Simon Nathan named summits in the Paparoa Range on the West Coast after scientists such as Copernicus, Curie, Einstein, Pasteur and Rutherford.

Informal naming

Provincial names have evolved less formally. In the mid-20th century Northland displaced North Auckland as the preferred name for the region north of Auckland. South Auckland, which once described the city’s hinterland as far as Taupō, is now confined to its southern suburbs.

Many places have acquired informal names: ‘Palmy’ for Palmerston, ‘Gizzie’ for Gisborne, ‘Cardie’ for Cardrona.

How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Place names - Naming after 1920', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 May 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 24 Nov 2008