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Jerk, Jerk, Jerk

Entry 1091, on 2009-09-20 at 21:01:23 (Rating 4, Politics)

I just can't ignore it any more. Its silly and trivial and unworthy of any real concern, yet on the other hand its deeply symbolic of the problems we face here in New Zealand, and the problems many other countries face around the world. I'm talking about the great Wanganui/Whanganui debate, of course.

If you aren't a New Zealander Iet me explain: we have a city here called "Wanganui" which is a name from the language of the original inhabitants of New Zealand, the Maori. The problem is the spelling was probably originally "Whanganui" and now some groups (especially some Maori groups) want the spelling "corrected".

Seems simple enough, right? There are a few problems though. First, a poll shows the people who live there don't want the name changed (and over 70% of New Zealanders who responded to a Herald poll didn't either). Second, the Maori had no written language and no alphabet and pronunciation varied from one area to another so the spelling is somewhat arbitrary. Third, there is significant expense involved in changing signs and other places where the name is used. And last, many names have changed over they years so why is it only Maori names which must be corrected?

There is already a feeling amongst some members of our society that Maori get special privileges and the fact is they do. Whether those special privileges are fair or deserved is another matter which I won't comment in here. So this is just seen as another time that certain Maori groups try to use their power and have politically correct authorities jump to attention.

Just to make things worse the mayor of Wanganui is a rather outspoken and controversial individual who isn't scared to make his opinions known, even when those opinons might be better kept to himself. He really lost it a bit recently when debating the subject and reverted to rather childish insults such as in response to someone saying his "credibility going down, down, down," where he replied, "Jerk, jerk, jerk."

I'm not against using Maori names. I refer to Mount Taranaki as that because I have no idea who Egmont was [according to Wikipedia the mountain was named after John Perceval, the 2nd Earl of Egmont, the First Lord of the Admiralty who promoted Cook's first voyage], but I refer to Mount Cook as that because Captain Cook, who it was named after, was genuinely important to this country and I prefer that name to the Maori name, Aoraki.

While I can see that there is merit on both sides I think its time we backed away from the excessive political correctness we (and most other countries) have suffered from recently, so I would like to see the existing name of Wanganui retained. There are plenty of other names which are mis-spelled or technically incorrect in other ways but we should accept those as just part of the charm of naming things and move on. And above all we should forget about this trivia and start worrying about more important things instead.


Comment 8 (2519) by OJB on 2009-09-25 at 08:30:52: (view earlier comments)

Indeed. if the majority of the people of Wanganui and of New Zealand wanted this to happen I would agree with you. Looking at comments in various forums I think most people see it the same way I do: a cynical use of power by Maori groups aimed at bureaucratic organisations known for choosing political correctness ahead of practicality.


Comment 9 (2520) by SBFL on 2009-09-25 at 09:26:46:

From my POV the fact that the majority of the citizens of Wanganui want to retain the status quo is one of the few valid arguments in favour of keeping it "Wanganui". But we also know that just because the majority says so, doesn't necessarily make it right. However because this is not a moral matter nor matter of national importance I am inclined to at least attribute this point some validity.

I am less inclined to go along with the argument of "cynical use of power by Maori groups". This is just emotion running ragged. I am not Maori nor a supporter of any 'Maori group', but like those in favour of a change I do believe the spelling should be corrected. According to Ken Mair, this is his mere point also, and that I agree with. I think this whole issue is not racial, or at least it shouldn't be if level heads are maintained.


Comment 10 (2521) by OJB on 2009-09-25 at 16:43:23:

The majority wanting the name retained is just one point in favour of not changing. Another would be the cost and confusion it causes, would it not? From a practical perspective that would be a more significant point.

I agree that its hard to know what the real motivation for something is but, as to whether there there is a racial element, I would ask this: how often are these sorts of corrections made to names with a European origin? Five minutes research showed several names based on Scottish/Gaelic names around Dunedin (including Dunedin itself) which are misspellings. No one seems too concerned about those.


Comment 11 (2523) by SBFL on 2009-09-26 at 11:53:17:

I don't think there would be too much cost and confusion, names and brands change all the time, there are methods of change management. At least if there was, it would be short-lived. There would be a transition period where both names could be used. After that, probably just some stockpiled letterhead paper to recycle? In my view the majority view of Wanganui's citizens is the stongest point for the status quo.

Regarding the points in your second paragraph I would say that just because apathy is rife in other places doesn't mean everyone should be. Of course I would encourage corrections of place names from any culture including those from Scottish/Gaelic heritage that have been anglicized.


Comment 12 (2524) by OJB on 2009-09-30 at 18:15:20:

OK, well I think we just have to disagree here. I think this is a cultural power issue instead of just a simple correction but that's a difficult thing to prove so probably not worth pursuing. I totally agree that the difficulties of the renaming would be not too hard to overcome if there was sufficient support for the change.


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