What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. Juliet Capulet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Name changes to suit the rulers
By Roger Childs
Some readers will recall the 1953 song which included the refrain Istanbul not Constantinople. The latter was the name the Romans gave to the great city, but in the 1920s the older Turkish name Istanbul came into common usage.
The Dutch called the settlement New Amsterdam, but when the British took over that wouldn’t do, so New York it became.
In New Zealand we have had plenty of changes or additions over the years, mainly to provide Maori names.
Sometimes alterations have been made to replace unfortunate connotations. Golden Bay does sound a lot better than the Tasman named Murderers Bay!
Associatons were the reasons for altering Cook’s disparaging naming of Poverty Bay.
Cook didn’t have fond memories of the Bay because he couldn’t get ashore to re-provision the ship. The Maori name was Turanganui a Kiwa. Apparently the English explorer was intending to name the bay after his ship the Endeavour.
How far do we go in renaming places? One gets the impression that most people in the Taranaki prefer the original Mt Egmont name for the soaring mountain, however the early Polynesian settlers called it Taranaki. Officially either is acceptable!
But will there be moves to change the name of Egmont Village?
Readers will recall the fuss a few years back over the spelling of Wanganui/Whanganui. The vast majority of locals wanted no change.
Here on the Kapiti Coast we have the dilemma of what to call our old State Highway One. A group of local Maori leaders have come up with seven names for different sections: all Polynesian people who played a role in the history of the area. The jury is still out.
Tampering with history
There are many place names and statues which reflect the heritage of an area. Sometimes it’s not what you think. Slaughter Bay on Norfolk Island is not where a group of convicts were beaten to death. The word comes from Old English meaning slow moving water.
However, just round the corner there is Murderer’s Bridge which does recall the killing of a cruel convict overseer. The name remains.
In the USA the debate continues to rage over Confederacy memorials recalling the Civil War. Dallas has recently removed a statue of the brilliant southern commander, Robert E Lee.
Abraham Lincoln wanted Lee to head the Union Army, but the Virginian through in his lot with the Confederacy. If Lincoln had got his man it would have been a very short civil war.
So should the statues and place names of famous historical figures like Lee, be removed and changed because of revisionist history?
Cecil Rhodes was a white supremacist and had a huge impact on changing the face of southern Africa in the 19th century. Should the famous scholarships to Oxbridge be given a new name?
Flawed New Zealanders
Richard John Seddon is probably the country’s most famous prime ministers (premiers), but he was opposed to women’s suffrage: grounds for removing his statue from the precincts of parliament?
How about Te Rauparaha? The Ngati Toa chief lived his last few years peacefully in Otaki and had a close relationship with missionary Octavius Hadfield.
However in earlier decades he was greatly feared by Maori and settlers alike in the southern North Island and south of Cook Strait.
He was guilty of treachery, torture and the killing and eating of prisoners over many years. Because of these war crimes, should the Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua, and streets elsewhere, be renamed?
Under the microscope of history, few come up smelling of roses, or whatever they are called.