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How’s your geography?
If I gave you a World map and thirty seconds to find the city of Terneuzen, would you be able to point it out? No cheating allowed. No index. Just thirty seconds on the clock. How would you fare?
What about if I told you Terneuzen is a city in Zeeland. The original Zeeland. The single least populated province in The Netherlands?
Sure, that might narrow things down a little... but how many of us honestly wouldn’t be able to identify Zeeland, either?
Back in 2016, I supported changing the New Zealand flag during the referendum debate because I don’t think our current flag is at all representative of our country today. That’s not to say I don’t have the highest respect for people who fought under its banner. It’s not to say I’m looking to expunge our colonial history or pretend we were never part of the commonwealth. I just don’t think a flag with a prominent Union Jack that is barely discernible from Australia’s is a flag that represents us.
I feel much the same way about the name ‘New Zealand.’ If you actually stop and think about it, it’s a silly name. What does New Zealand mean? Well, it means Sea-Land. But NEW. And in Dutch.
By contrast... what does Aotearoa mean? There are a few translations, but the most popular and literal is The Land of the Long White Cloud. As per some Māori mythology, it was the great explorer Kupe who used the phrase when he first spied this land. Say what you will... that’s a way cooler explanation than Zeeland. But NEW. And in Dutch.
There are a few inevitable tired arguments against changing our name. Some will argue that the first person to discover land should get the right to name it. But obviously that rules out Abel Tasman. After all, he didn’t discover this land.
Some will argue too, that we should stick with the name because we’ve had it for a few hundred years and it’s in common usage. Well, it wasn’t so long ago that people said exactly the same thing about Mt Egmont and Mt Cook.
There is an easy solution to this, of course. A name that reflects our history. A name that succinctly illustrates a relationship between the indigenous and European cultures that have developed the country into what it is today. A name fit for 2020, that would put us a the top of the drop down country list when you’re putting in your details for some online shopping.
That name is simple. Aotearoa New Zealand.