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CNN's Māori Party campaigns to change New Zealand's name to Aotearoa links to Maoriparty.org's petition Change our official name to Aotearoa.

The Crown is mentioned in two paragraphs of the petition's statement:

Name changes over our whenua and the imposition of a colonial agenda in the education system in the early 1900s meant that Te Reo Māori fluency among our tupuna went from 90% in 1910 to 26% in 1950. In only 40 years, the Crown managed to successfully strip us of our language and we are still feeling the impacts of this today. It’s totally unacceptable that 20% of the Māori population and 3% of people living in Aotearoa can speak te reo Māori.

and

It is the duty of the Crown to do all that it can to restore the status of our language. That means it needs to be accessible in the most obvious of places; on our televisions, on our radio stations, on road signs, maps and official advertising, and in our education system.

Question: What is the process the Crown would follow to change New Zealand's name to Aotearoa in order to help restore the status the Māori language? Would this actually be done by public referendum, or would it really be up to the Commonwealth to implement the name change?

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The Crown-in-Parliament would legislate to the effect that the name of the country would be Aotearoa as of some date. This would be the typical New Zealand parliamentary process as for other laws:

  • A Bill would be introduced in the House of Representatives by an elected Member of Parliament.
  • It would be passed by majority vote, three times after different stages of review.
  • It would be assented by the Governor-General, becoming an Act of Parliament.
  • It would take effect on the date specified in the Act, changing the name of the country at that point.

The law could include provision for a referendum if desired. The Commonwealth would not be involved, other than as one of many international bodies to be notified of a change of name.

It is worth noting that the "Crown" being talked of here is the state, or the executive government, not a natural person. The New Zealand state is the counterparty to the Treaty of Waitangi mentioned in the petition and it acts through or authorised by legislation, so a call for the Crown to do something is calling for either legislative change or an administrative act of the state.


Since "Aotearoa" is the standard modern translation of "New Zealand" in an official language, it is already routinely used by state entities within Māori-language text and in names of national agencies, and informally or in combination within English-language text ("Aotearoa New Zealand"), but it is not currently "the" formal name of the country internationally.


It would also be possible for an amendment to the New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008 to repeal section 8(3) and permit the board to make that change itself as an administrative action of a Crown agency, which is currently explicitly prohibited to it:

However, the Board does not have jurisdiction to assign a name to, or alter the name of, New Zealand.

That agency does routinely assign new, replacement, or dual names to other geographic features in te reo Māori, so it might well do the same here if it were allowed.

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    Given the similarities between the powers and processes of the NZ and UK Parliaments, it's worth noting the precedent that the UK has changed its name by Act of Parliament, including: in 1801 (Union with Ireland Act 1800) and in 1927 (Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927). The latter actually only changed the name of Parliament itself; I was unable to determine if that was sufficient to rename the country, or if the renaming was done elsewhere. Sep 15 at 9:36
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    Could you clarify what treaty you are referring to at the end of the first section ("The New Zealand state is the counterparty to the Treaty...")?
    – IMSoP
    Sep 15 at 15:22
  • Is there an act of parliament in effect currently that establishes the name of the country as New Zealand? If so, which one?
    – phoog
    Sep 15 at 21:19
  • @IMSoP - that would be The Treaty of Waitangi, nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/treaty/the-treaty-in-brief
    – Caleb
    Sep 15 at 21:34
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    @phoog The Interpretation Act defines what "New Zealand" means in legislation (i.e. territorially), but I believe the name of the state is inherited from imperial letters patent in the 19th century creating the colony and has not been legislated domestically. Sep 15 at 21:34
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(Only addressing NZ => Aotearoa country name change. Not efforts at promoting the language, customs and local place names)

If, by "the Crown" it refers to the Head of Commonwealth and assuming NZ has anything like the relationship we Canadians have with the "the Crown", then the answer is, no, it wouldn't. This would be a decision to take by the New Zealand electorate, acting through Parliament. British royalty has extremely limited power to affect sovereign states in the Commonwealth.

If the Queen is indeed the intended meaning, as the OP states and a comment does as well below, which I highly doubt, then this is likely more a PR move to gain international attention by appealing outside of NZ or appealing to an authority that is unlikely to quickly dismiss it. Which kinda worked, considered the link is from CNN.

If, by "the Crown", the usage is British-style legalese similar to "Crown land", "Crown companies", "Crown prosecutor", meaning "the government" (or in the case of "Crown land" "public land"), then, yes, that's possible. And Michael's answer does a much better job than mine detailing the procedure. But at this level, changing a country's internationally-recognized name is definitely something that would require a lot more buy-in from the electorate than just a petition. With 16% of Maoris that seems like a hard sell. But, as a PR exercise, why not?

British Columbia is also getting "nominated" for a name change. Same reasons given, really.

Should British Columbia change its name? As we reckon with history, some say it's time. The operative word is some, the rejection in a poll was quite significant. Not to mention practicalities: there are multiple tribes (30+?) in BC, many with their own language, and with tribal areas covering small fractions of the modern provincial territory, so determining which language's historical name to use would be an unholy mess.

On the other hand, we have changed, successfully, some "pretty big" place names, like Georgia Straight => Salish Sea, Queen Charlotte => Haida Gwaii. The reaction has been a lot more positive, as there is a lot less communal identity tied to these names, as well as considerably less administrative impact. Queen Charlotte? Don't think she ever had anything to do with the place.

p.s. If I were seriously trying to promote the language I'd shoot for renaming geographical features/areas myself, if I was aiming to restore customary names, rather than anything that would some up on existing deeds, contracts or personally-tied identification. Plus, a lot of native names are a lot more poetic-sounding than some long dead Brit's.

p.p.s Note also, that, in regards to this question, at least in Canada, "the Crown" has a specific extra meaning when it comes to First Nations relationships - "the Crown" is the formal counterparty to most of the original treaties natives <=> Canada and indigenous people here tend to be more attached to its participation (and somewhat distinct from "current Canadian govt") than the average Canadian might think. The fact that early treaties made in Canada were often more advantageous to natives than the latter. At least that's the claim made by Canada's Odyssey, by Russel.

Yes, I realize that Michael already said this, but I want to stress that the letter and intent of formal treaties originally signed by the Crown, are often appealed to when it comes to securing better outcomes for indigenous people, because later power relationships typically evolved to the detriment of the natives. So, no, not Head of Commonwealth, or even Head of State of NZ, but "respect your treaty obligations".

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    Worth noting for the sake of clarity that "the Crown" in this context is the Queen of New Zealand. Sep 15 at 7:23
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    A couple of things worth noting. 1) until 1982, British parliament was involved in all Canadian constitutional changes (the one in 1982 got rid of that, I was there when QE-II signed it). I don't know about NZ - maybe they have a different status. 2) "The crown" in a Canadian context still refers to just about anything the government does. When a parliamentary bill is signed, it is given "royal assent"; the Governor-General, when she signs a bill is acting as the representative of the Queen (or King) of Canada.
    – Flydog57
    Sep 15 at 19:18
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    @Flydog57 same deal, but 1986 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_Act_1986
    – llama
    Sep 15 at 20:14
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    In this context, the "Crown" is a term of art that does not mean the Queen personally.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 16 at 1:04
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The government (i.e., the Crown) can do whatever Parliament agrees to do. There have been lots of name changes over the years. For example, as the decolonization of Africa happened, South West Africa became Namibia, Upper Volta became became Burkina Faso, etc. What is now the "Republic of the Congo" went through several rebrandings (including a detour through Zaire).

More recently Swaziland became Eswatini. Around Eswatini, South Africa did wholesale changes to various constituent states (the Eastern Transvaal is now Mpumalanga, Natal is now KwaZulu-Natal). Cities changed names as well. Similar city renaming has happened in India (Bombay to Mumbai, Madras to Chennai, etc.).

The transition from Burma to Myanmar has been halting not because other countries rejected the name. Many countries still refer to that place as Burma because they rejected the authority of the dictatorship that was ruling the place at the time. Myanmar became much more popular as a name once some level of democracy was achieved (unfortunately, temporarily).

Just like Standard Oil of New Jersey can rebrand itself as Exxon, New Zealand can change it's name to whatever it wants. And, when it does, it will be done by normal "royal" processes.

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