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Aotearoa New Zealand place names

2 farmers, one on horse, in paddock with sheep behind signpost with NZ's longest place name

Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauatamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu sign, 1948 by E. P. Christensen. Archives New Zealand on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Students inquire into Aotearoa New Zealand place names to learn more about their meanings and significance.


  • Cultural interactions, naming, tangata whenua, identity, origins, history, commemoration, change.
  • He Tohu themes: place, people, living together.

What to do

Find out about a local place name

Ask students, in groups, to find out what they can about the origins of the name of their town, city, and/or region. This could include other names (if any) that their chosen place has been known by.

Get students to investigate the Māori history of their town or region, drawing on the knowledge and expertise of people within the community.

  • Make sure students also consider the way tangata whenua have experienced and related to the land of their chosen place.
  • If the information is challenging to uncover, discuss why.
  • For information and support on how to engage with local iwi and hapū in your area, contact your local Ministry of Education office.

Inquire into the place names of NZ's main centres

Ask students, individually or in groups, to find out about the origins of the names of NZ's main centres. Answer the following questions:

  • Who decides on place names?
  • How did NZ's main centres get their names?
  • What are the te reo Māori names for these cities?
  • Do they have names in te reo Māori and in English? Why?
  • Are they better known by an English name? Why?
  • When is it appropriate to give a place a new name when it is already named?

Some useful resources

Topic Explorer:

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) — place names of Aotearoa New Zealand.

New Zealand Curriculum — social sciences

Conceptual strands:

  • Identity, Culture, and Organisation
  • Place and Environment
  • Continuity and Change

Achievement objectives:

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