Saturday, December 20, 2014
Mike Butler: Where not to drop your aitches
A quick look at history shows that settlers asked for the name "Wanganui" to replace the New Zealand Company name of Petre in a petition dated May 3, 1844, noting that the name “Petre” was “universally disliked”. (1)
The name Petre derived from Henry William Petre who first came to New Zealand in 1840 as director of the New Zealand Company of which his father, William Henry Francis Petre, the 11th Baron Petre, had been chairman.
The 1844 petition spelled the name “Wanganui”, although I did notice that my great grandfather who was a court interpreter in Wanganui at that time used both spellings on his letters, although he mostly omitted the “H”.
The word “wanganui/whanganui” means “great harbour". Before the wicked white coloniser came along renaming everything, Port Nicholson at Wellington was known as Te Wanganui/Whanganui a Tara, or The Great Harbour of Tara”.
In a nation less ad hoc than New Zealand, matters of language and culture are decided in a less partisan fashion. For instance France has L’Academie Francaise, a pre-eminent French learned body that rules on matters pertaining to the French language.
New Zealand appears not to take matters pertaining to the English language seriously.
The language is not even legally recognised as official even though it is the defacto language of government and business. Even Prime Minister John Key in his self-deprecating manner has joked that he would benefit from elocution lessons.
The “Wanganui/Whanganui” problem started in May of 2008 with an application by the blandly named Te Runanga O Tupoho, an iwi committee, to the New Zealand Geographic Board for the "H" to be added. (2)
As the national place naming authority, the New Zealand Geographic Board is required by law to consider proposals to assign, alter, approve or discontinue names for geographic features and places, including cities.
But Ken Mair was the spokesman for Te Runanga O Tupoho. Mair was one of the organisers of the 79-day occupation of Moutoa Gardens in Wanganui in 1995 in protest over a Treaty of Waitangi claim, an action which split the town and the nation and garnered significant attention from police.
District Mayor Michael Laws vehemently opposed the move and the “Wanganui/Whanganui” battle lines were drawn.
The New Zealand Geographic Board deliberated for 14 months. A district-wide referendum in May 2009, with more than 19,000 Wanganui residents voting, overwhelmingly rejected adding the H. (3)
After considering 180 submissions in September 2009 New Zealand Geographic Board decided that Wanganui should have an "H" added to its name.
The board opined that “Wanganui, the name given to the town to reflect its position near the mouth of the Whanganui River, was spelt incorrectly and has never been formally gazetted by this board or its predecessors. It is therefore not currently an official New Zealand place name.” (4)
However, a paper by historian Diana Beaglehole, commissioned by the Wanganui District Council, had concluded that Wanganui was the correct version. (5)
In the paper, Beaglehole found that Wanganui first began appearing in written form in the late 1830s. "The Wanganui spelling was a direct consequence of the way the initial sound in the name was pronounced by local iwi," Beaglehole said.
No early diaries or journals had any references to the Whanganui version of the name, she said.
“H” proponents parrot stirrer Mair's line that it was important the spelling be changed to "Whanganui" because "if people continue to spell your name wrong, you would want to rectify the situation". But the increasingly forced change has brought a costly headache for every organisation that must change signs and stationery and created windfall business for sign writers and printers.
It has also brought bizarre pronunciation. If the “H” is included, “Whanganui” needs to be pronounced with an aspirated “wh” as in the word “where” or “why”. What we have is attempts at correctness resulting in “Whanganui” being pronounced “Fonganui”.
An amendment to the Geographic Board Act 2008 passed in December 2012 enabled either “Wanganui” or “Whanganui” to be used in official documentation, no longer both names.
The latest squabble over the “H” coincided with Wanganui/Whanganui being referred to as a zombie town, falling behind the rest of the country in economic factors, and possibly nearing its end.(6)
Stirrer Mair could be rubbing his hands with glee at the mayhem he has caused. Suggestions from him to benefit his town would be more helpful.
One question: If the New Zealand Geographic Board can call for submissions and change the name of a town could it also change the name of New Zealand to "Aotearoa New Zealand" or just "Aotearoa"? Apparently not! A question to the board revealed members were unsure how the name of New Zealand could be changed.
1. Petre, Wanganui, or Whanganui, http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/interactive/18927/petre-wanganui-or-whanganui
2. Laws digs in over putting 'h' in Wanganui, http://www.stuff.co.nz/archived-stuff-sections/archived-national-sections/korero/418362
3. Wanganui to become Whanganui, September 17, 2009. http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/wanganui-become-whanganui-2995794
4. New Zealand Geographic Board to publicly consult on ‘h’ in Wanganui, March 30, 2009. - http://www.linz.govt.nz/news/2009-03/new-zealand-geographic-board-publicly-consult-%E2%80%98h%E2%80%99-wanganui 5. Wanganui to become Whanganui, September 17, 2009. http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/wanganui-become-whanganui-2995794
6. Talk of zombie towns rejected, July 19, 2014. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/wanganui-chronicle/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503426&objectid=11295919
at 5:27 PM