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Story: Royal honours system

Knight and dame companions might sound like something from a medieval tale, but they are titles from New Zealand’s honours system. In 1996 New Zealand replaced the ancient British honours system with its own home-grown honours.

Story by Mandy Wong
Main image: Valerie Vili and Hone Waititi after receiving their honours

Story Summary

All images & media in this story

Honours are a way for a country to acknowledge achievements and thank people who have served their communities.

History

New Zealand started to use the long-established British honours system when it was a British colony, and continued to do so for years afterward. In 1996 the country introduced its own complete honours system.

The queen is New Zealand’s head of state and is the only person who has the right to grant honours. She usually grants them on the advice of New Zealand’s prime minister, but there are some British honours she can still decide to grant herself.

New Zealand does not have titles that can be inherited.

New Zealand’s own honours system

New Zealand has several levels and types of honours, including:

  • The Order of New Zealand is the highest honour in New Zealand. Only 20 people can be members of the order at any one time.
  • The New Zealand Order of Merit has five levels, and members of the top two levels can use the titles ‘sir’ (if a man) or ‘dame’ (if a woman).
  • The Queen’s Service Order is awarded for service to the community or public, generally at a national level.
  • The Queen’s Service Medal is awarded for service to the community, usually at a local level.
  • New Zealand bravery awards recognise brave actions.
  • The New Zealand Antarctic Medal was created in 2006 for people who make an outstanding contribution related to the Antarctic region.

Bestowing honours

Anyone can nominate another person for an honour. Nominations are considered by a committee of government ministers. The prime minister then makes recommendations to the governor-general and, after that, to the queen. Between 1,400 and 1,800 nominations are made each year, from which roughly 400 honours are granted.

Honours are announced at New Year and at Queen’s Birthday in June. They are usually conferred in a special ceremony conducted by the governor-general.

How to cite this page:

Mandy Wong, 'Royal honours system', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/royal-honours-system (accessed 19 November 2017)

Story by Mandy Wong, published 20 Jun 2012