Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Place Names of New Zealand - out now

Place Names of New Zealand

A.W. Reed; revised by Peter Dowling

Published by Raupo, an imprint of Penguin Books (

ISBN 8-978-0-14-320410-7 512 pages Paperback NZ$50

It’s been a privilege to edit, update and expand A.W. Reed’s Place Names of New Zealand. The new edition is just out through Raupo, the imprint that carries on what was once Reed Books.

How we call places matters deeply. The debate over whether to include an ‘h’ in the official spelling of ‘Wanganui’, which raged as I was revising this work between 2008 and 2010, was merely the latest example of what store people set by place names. Times don’t appear to have changed this sentiment. In 1844, residents protested vehemently against the giving of the name Petre to the town that was renamed Wanganui as a result.

A.W. Reed, who died in 1979, was an outstanding publisher who had a feel for what matters in popular culture, and he recognised the need to start recording origin and meaning of place names before the knowledge was lost. His Place Names of New Zealand, published in 1975, became the standard guide to this popular field, and he published a substantial Supplement to Place Names of New Zealand shortly before his death.

The 2010 Place Names of New Zealand maintains most of Reed’s research, but in a slimmed down, ready-reference structure. Onto that foundation I’ve built on as much new information as could be reliably sourced within the available time – adding definitions for some 1500 new names, new details for existing entries, and latest versions of official names. All up the new edition has origin and meanings for over 10,000 place names.

What excites me about place names is how directly they mediate between us and our land, our past and our language, keeping alive experiences and people long vanished from our memories. There are names that mark lovers, murderers, cannibal feasts, failures, puns and friendships; names that tie places to nature alongside those that honour eminences who never had anything to do with the place; names that have been misspelled but where any change is deeply opposed.

Arthur’s Pass, for example, retains its apostrophe only because residents protested violently at government efforts to remove it (Hawke’s Bay is the only other New Zealand place name officially to retain the apostrophe). It could have been worse for residents of the Pass – in Southland the Ruhtra Creek was meant to honour a surveyor by the name of Arthur, but ended up being recorded backwards!

I hope that readers can gain as much from Place Names of New Zealand as it gave me in putting it together.

Peter Dowling -

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