The naming of New Zealand
The purpose of this page is to provide details relating to the naming of New Zealand.
A list of references follows. Those marked with an asterisk, thus * are reproduced in full below.
*1) [Andrew Sharp] "The naming of New Zealand". (in) A.H. McLintock (ed.) An encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 3 vols, Wellington: R.E. Owen, Govt. Printer, 1966. Vol. 2, pp.656-57.
2) Evelyn Stokes, “The naming of New Zealand” (in) New Zealand Geographer,
c. 1966, pp. 201-204
*3) "The origin of the name "New Zealand" (in) New Zealand Foreign Affairs Review September 1970, pp. 28-31.
4) Brian Hooker "New light on the mapping and naming of New Zealand" (in) The New Zealand Journal of History, 6, no. 2 (October 1972), 158-67.
5) "We might have been called Staten Landers" (in) New Zealand Herald, 5 February 1974.
6) Andrew Sharp [Letter], "Not Aotearoa - or was it?" (in) Auckland Star, 20 July 1970; 29 July 1970.
7) E. H. McCormack, Tasman and New Zealand: A Bibliographical Study, Wellington: Govt Printer, 1959.
8) Brian Hooker "Two sets of Tasman longitudes in seventeenth and eighteenth century maps" (in) The Geographical Journal, Vol 156, No. 1, March 1990, pp. 23-30.
9) J. O. W. "Aotearoa" in, A.H. McLintock (ed.) –in - An encyclopaedia of New Zealand, 3 vols, Wellington: R. E. Owen, Govt. Printer, 1966. Vol. 1, p. 53.
*10) Note and conclusion by Brian Hooker.
11) Abel Tasman's journal (Return to the main list of contents via the the top of this page.)
New Zealand, Naming [Andrew Sharp]
It is doubtful whether in prehistoric times the New Zealand Maori had a general name for the North Island, South Island, and contiguous coastal islands of New Zealand. An old Maori of Queen Charlotte Sound at the time of Cook's first visit in 1770 used a name rendered phonetically by Cook (q.v.) as "Acheino mouwe" while pointing to the North Island, and a
name rendered by Cook as "Tovy- poenammu" for two lands south of Cook Strait, probably derived from "te wai pounamu", meaning literally "the water greenstone", the greenstone (q.v.) of the South Island being valued and sought by the Maoris of the North as well as of the South Island.
Indirect evidence that some Maoris of Cook's time used the name Aotea for a substantial portion of the North Island is given by J. Andia y Varcia, the captain of one of the ships of a Spanish expedition which visited Tahiti at about the time of Cook's second voyage in the
Pacific. In the years 1773-74 Cook, accompanied by two Tahitians, made a round trip in the course of which he visited Tongatabu, in the Tonga Group, New Zealand, and Vaitabu, in the Marquesas Group. Shortly after Cook's departure from Tahiti, where he left one of the Tahitians who had accompanied him on this round trip, Andia gathered the names of a number of
islands known to the Tahitians, including "Tonetapu", "Guaytabo", "Ponamu", and "laotea". The first three of these names echo Tongatabu, Vaitahu, and "Tovy- poenammu". The fourth is evidently the name Aotea. In 1773-74 Cook had followed the south-cast coast of the North Island and had visited Queen Charlotte Sound. The name Aotea may have been obtained either at
that time or on Cook's first voyage, when his expedition had contacts with numbers of Maoris on the east coast of the North Island and at Queen Charlotte Sound. The fact that both Ponamu, echoin. Cook's "Tovy-poenammu" as a name for part or all of the South Island, and laotea appear in Andia's list creates the presumption that the name Aotea had been obtained in the
In the mid- nineteenth century Sir George Grey collected Maori traditions in which Aotea is given as the destination of Maori traditional canoes in terms implying that the name embraced at least a consider- able portion of the North Island. The name Aotearoa also appears in
Grey's collection. In a version of the tradition of Kupe's discovery of New Zealand given late in the nineteenth century by the Maori priest Te Matorohanga, Kupe (q.v.) was described as naming his discovery "Aotearoa" (q.v.). This name was translated by S. Percy Smith (q.v.) as "long while cloud". Henry Williams (q.v.), however, commented
that the name "Aotearoa" was incomprehensible to some nineteenth-century Maori to whom it was given by Te Matorohanga, and that the words "long white cloud" were not an equivalent. It is possible that the components of "Aotea", whatever their original meaning, had lost this meaning when "roa", signifying "long", was tacked on, in which case Aotearoa would mean
simply "Long Aotea".
A general Maori name for the main islands of New Zealand was no doubt essential in later times, and continues so today. Aotearoa fills the need.
Ref.1 European Names
Coming to European names for New Zealand, when Jacob Le Maire in 1616 discovered Le Maire Strait, he and his companions had no idea of the extent of the land on the south side of the strait. They called it Staten Land, a name which still endures for the small portion of land separated from the rest of South America by Le Maire Strait. In 1642-43, when Abel Janszoon
Tasman (q.v.) sailed along part of the western littoral of New Zealand, he conjectured that it might be joined to Le Maire's Staten Land and accordingly named it Staten Landt. In 1643 Hendrik Brouwer skirted Le Maire's Staten Land on the south side.
Any discerning geographer who knew of this might be expected to deduce that Le Maire's Staten Land was not a continent and that Tasman's Staten Landt did not join it. In 1644 Tasman sailed along the north coast of Australia. In the same year the Dutch authorities at Batavia had a
composite map compiled; it is now in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. It shows large portions of Australia known from Dutch discoveries, including those of Tasman on the Tasmanian and continental north coast. "Compagnis Niev Nederland" occurs in this map in large letters within the Australian continent. The name means "Company's New Netherland", the "Company" being the
Dutch East India Company. Later, "Nieuw Holland", meaning New Holland, became a standard Dutch appellation for the Australian continent, and the English translation, or its Latin equivalent, in due course appeared in the texts of British explorers and geographers.
On a Dutch globe-map of the mid-seventeenth century, the name "Zeelandia Nova" - the Latin equivalent of the Dutch "Nieuw Zeeland" and the English "New Zealand" - appears for the parts of New Zealand discovered by Tasman. [i.e.] W.J. Blaeu's 60 cm terrestrial globe -
revised by his son Joan Blaeu in 1648 - Brian Hooker.] Zealand is a Dutch maritime province. We may see in these facts the emergence of the designation Nieuw Zeeland and in due course of its English equivalent as a name replacing the unsatisfactory Staten Land and bestowed on New Zealand by analogy with the name Nieuw Holland for Australia. A.S. [Andrew Sharp]
See also Aotearoa; Tasman's map, Vol. 2, p. 29. The Journals of Captain James Cook, Beaglehole, J. C. (ed.) (1955, 1961); The Quest and Occupation of Tahiti by Emissaries of Spain, Corney, B. G., (ed.) (1915); Polynesian Mythology, and Ancient Traditional History of the New Zealand Race, Grey, Sir G. (1855); The Discovery of New Zealand,
Beaglehole, J. C. (1939); Tasman and New Zealand, McCormick, E. H. (1959); Journal of tile Polynesian Sociely, Vol. 46 (1937)
[Above article from A.H. McLintock (ed.) An encyclopaedia of New Zealand vol 2, Wellington: R.E. Owen, Govt. Printer, 1966. pp.656-57.].
The origin of the name New Zealand
[reproduced from New Zealand Foreign Affairs Review (Sept. 1970), pp. 28-31.]
The following paper was prepared by the New Zealand Embassy at The Hague:
As many people are aware, about 1 percent of the population of New Zealand is Dutch. Indeed, after New Zealanders of British and of indigenous (Maori) origin, immigrants of Dutch origin are the most numerous group in New Zealand. But, as most people also realise, this diversification of the New Zealand population is largely a post-war development. At what point,
then, did New Zealand pick up the Dutch-sounding name by which it has been known for so long?
The average well-informed New Zealander, like the average well-informed Dutchman, believes he knows the answer. He is aware that New Zealand was first discovered in 1642 by the distinguished Dutch navigator, Abel Janszoon Tasman, and he is, of course, aware also that Zealand was then, and is still, a province of the Netherlands. Probably ninety-nine Dutchmen out of
a hundred, and ninety-nine New Zealanders out of a hundred, therefore assume that Tasman must have named the country, presumably after his home province. They feel that so obvious an explanation must surely account fully for the otherwise unusual fact that the British Commonwealth of today includes a country which still recalls a Netherlands connection; it its every
Those who have looked into the matter rather further, and who are familiar with world atlases published between 1642 (when Tasman first sighted the country) and 1769 (when Captain Cook became the second European to visit New Zealand), know also that the country regularly features therein as Zeelandia Nova (or New Zealand). This only serves to confirm their
Yet the real answer is less simple, and it is tantalising that even modern historical research leaves an area of uncertainty as to the first use of the name New Zealand. (certainly Tasman himself had no special connection with the province ,of Zeeland. Certainly also, when in 1642 he first saw this "great land uplifted high" (groot hooch verheven landt), he gave it
the name, not of Nieuw Zeeland, but of Staten Landt, as his journal and chart indisputably indicate.
Of the subsequent change in name, perhaps the best current account is given in a book published in New Zealand in 1959. E. H. McCormick's Tasman and New Zealand - A Bibliographical Study. The reader of this account (quoted below) should bear in mind that Tasman was able to chart only part of the west coast of the new country and could, therefore form no idea as to
whether it was an island or a continent that he had discovered.
"Why Zeelandia Nova?" writes Eric McCormick. "Tasman - so runs the usual explanation - called the country 'Staten Landt' believing. it might be joined to the Staten Landt .off the South American coast, discovered earlier in the century [fn. By Le Maire in 1616.] and thought to be a promontory of the fabled Terra Australis Incognita; in 1643, however, Hendrik Brouwer
proved that the first Staten Landt was an island and could not possibly extend to the region of Tasman's discovery; hence the original name was dropped and soon replaced by the present term." J. C. Beaglehole concludes: "Within a very few years [of Brouwer's voyage] the present name of Nova Zeelandia had been given. Nieuw Zeeland the country was to be, after the
island province fronting on the unquiet waters of the North Sea."
"Convincing to this point," continues McCormick, "the account may be carried a little further to explain, at least by supposition, why 'Zeelandia Nova' was chosen in preference to other alternatives. The reason is probably bound up with the naming of the West Coast of Australia, called by Tasman 'Cornpagnies Nieuw Nederland' and later rechristened 'Hollandia Nova',
a term gradually extended to the whole continent. For the sake of symmetry and to honour the second great maritime province of the Netherlands, is it not possible that 'Zeelandia Nova' was selected to describe the other southern land (one which, for all the geographers knew, might exceed Hollandia Nova in extent)? … The true explanation doubtless lies buried with
some seventeenth century cartographer."
The historical records unfortunately do indeed provide little help in documenting this development. Neither in the documents of the East India Company, nor in those of the States General, can a resolution he traced on the change of name of Staten Landt to Nieuw Zeeland. Regrettably, the resolutions of the Chamber Zeeland between the years 1638 and 1651 are missing.
It is nevertheless a reasonable assumption that there is a connection between the change of name and differences in those days between the West and East India Companies as to their line of demarcation. On 21 September 1644 (according to information provided by the Royal Dutch Archives), the directors of the East India Company were not prepared to take a definite
resolution about the results of Tasman's discoveries owing to some lingering uncertainty lest the Staten Landt discovered by Tasman might be part of the Staten Landt south of South America. They seem to have feared that the West India Company might allege an infringement of rights and claim possession of the new country on its own account. For the same reason one
can see why, once Brouwer's work was fully absorbed, there should have been every incentive to give Tasman's "Staten Landt" a new and less compromising name.
It seems clear, then, that the name Nieuw Zecland was not adopted before 1644. This can be confirmed by reference to the Linschoten Vereniging Volume XVII,
De Reizen van Abel Janszoon Tasman en Franchoys Jacobszoon Visscher in 1642-3 en 1644, published by R. P. Meyjes in 1919 (Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague) which prints on page 173 a directive to Tasman which uses the term "Statenlandt".
Can one then set at least an early date after 1644 when the new name of Nieuw Zeeland had become firmly established? It was clearly not long thereafter. McCormick in his study notes, for instance, that 'Zeelandia Nova' was a geographical term known well beyond the Netherlands at least by 1660 when Charles 11 of England, on his restoration, was presented by a group
of Amsterdam merchants w'th an "Orbis Terrae Compendurn", a gigantic atlas, showing both "Hollandia Nova" and "Zeelandia Nova". It is indeed to the cartographers that it seems one must repair, and from the evidence of early maps it is as good a guess as any that the name Nieuw Zecland dates from no later than about 1648. The cartographical evidence is to be found in
the Netherlands itself. It is natural to look especially to three early sources, though one of them yields no information. Engraved on a floor in the Royal Palace in Amsterdam are two mosaic hemispheres, which include data on Tasman's discoveries. These hemispheres are judged to date from about 1650, this part of the building being erected as the Amsterdam Civic
Hall over the years 1648 to 1655 and it was argued by R. P. Meyjes in 1919 that they derived from a drawing by Joannes Blaeu, the famous cartographer associated with the Netherlands East India Company. Unfortunately, however, the hemispheres do not include New Zealand.
It is, therefore, to the Geographical Institute at Utrecht that one must turn. Here there exists a Blaeu globe, which does record the name "Zeelandia Nova". The Linschoten Vereniging volume referred to above in one place dates this globe at about 1650, and in another place at about 1648. Dr F. C. Wielder, Librarian of the University of Leiden (see below), is
mentioned as placing it at 1648 on the supposition that it is one of a set of two globes, the other being an astronomical globe judged to date from that year. This, then, is commonly believed to he the first cartographical reference to New Zealand.
Yet it may not be. Strangely enough the Linschoten Vereniging volume (published in 1919) omits all reference to yet another map, and a particularly handsome one, which can readily be seen on the walls of the Netherlands Historical Maritime Museum in Amsterdam, and on which both Tasman's outline and the words "Zeelandia Nova" clearly appear. This is a. large
copper-engraved world map (nearly 3 metres long and 2 metres high) published by Joannes Blaeu. It has been reproduced in plates 51 to 71 of Volume 111 of Monumenta Cartographica,
edited by Dr F. C. Wielder, Martinus Nijhoff, 'The Hague 1925-33), plate 62 being the relevant plate so far as New Zealand is concerned. This map was dedicated by Blaeu to the Spanish Ambassador, Casparo de Bracamond, at the Peace Congress in Westphalia ("Nova 30 Hanc Orbis Terrac tabularn gratulabundus dedicat", then says in part); and the word "gratulabundus"
is judged to supply the publication date of the map. "The peace was just concluded," comments
Monurnenta Cartographica, "therefore the map is of the year 1648". The relevance of this map in tracing the origin of the name of New Zealand seems so far to have escaped scholars who have inquired into the matter.
So, pending further research or some unexpected discovery, those who are interested in how and when the name New Zealand arose must rest content with the knowledge that the country does indeed owe its name to the Netherlands but that when this name was first applied still remains uncertain, though it was probably between the years 1644 and 1648.
Note by Brian Hooker, 2000 (amended May 2002):
The story of the naming of New Zealand is not straightforward but it is not shrouded in mystery. Some of the details can only be confirmed through secondary or circumstantial evidence but considered together with the known facts the overall chronicle is virtually complete and the conclusions convincing.
There is no evidence that early Maori had a name for the country as a whole. In fact, all available evidence points to the view that Maori named every geographical feature individually but not collectively. The best known reference to this is in the journal of the French explorer Dumont d'Urville who noted the following in 1827: " On coasts inhabited by a people so
highly endowed, and who had not left an islet, a rock, a corner of the land without assigning a name to it, …" (New Zealand 1826-1827 - From the French of Dumont D'Urville - an English translation by Olive Wright, 1950. pp.146-7.) Entries in Cook's journals support this view. (see J.C. Beaglehole The Journals of Captain James Cook, Beaglehole,
J. C. (ed.) (1955, 1961); The evidence included in references listed at this site supports the view that the name "Aotearoa" was a late 19th-century invention with a strong European input.
Tasman's name for New Zealand
Tasman named New Zealand "Staten Landt". An entry in his journal for 19 December 1642 reads: " This Land is the second land that is sailed to and discovered by us this Land we have given the name of Staten landt in honour of the High and Mighty states [General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands] because it could well be, that this land Would be joined to the
state Landt, [i.e. at the southern tip of South America] …". (Andrew Sharp, The voyages of Abel Janszoon Tasman, London, 1968) Charts accompanying Tasman's journal also provide the same name.
Maps published surreptitiously at Amsterdam soon after Tasman's expedition returned to Batavia (Jakarta) in June 1643 clearly show the name "Staten Landt' (or similar) beside parts of the west coast of New Zealand. (See Brian Hooker Two sets of Tasman longitudes in seventeenth and eighteenth century maps"
The Geographical Journal vol. 156, Part 1, March 1990 - see the Contents Page - go via the top or below.)
Undoubtedly for the reasons given by McCormick and Sharp the name was changed to Zeelandia Nova. The exact date of the change is not known but almost certainly it was in 1648 when Joan Blaeu revised his 68 cm terrestrial globe first published in 1617 by Willem Blaeu and included the part of New Zealand with names.
The facts reviewed in the notes above and the articles listed on this site reveal that there is no case as some people have suggested for a return to New Zealand's original Maori name. There was no original name. About Tasman's name of "Staten Landt" This was continued in maps right up to the time of Cook's exploration in
1769-70, Cook or the British Admiralty probably had a choice between selecting the name "Staten Landt" or "New Zealand" for maps and journals but Cook chose New Zealand (or New Zeland).
Almost certainly, the originator of the name New Zealand was Joan Blaeu who held the appointment of official cartographer to the Dutch East India Company. Probably Blaeu was directed by or consulted by an official or officials of the Company, in 1648. □