From Academic Kids

Template:Wiktionary Aotearoa (pronounced: Template:Audio) is the most widely known and accepted name for New Zealand derived from the Māori language.



The original derivation of Aotearoa is not known for certain. A likely translation is "Long white cloud" (ao = cloud, tea = white, roa = long). It is, however, most often translated as "The land of the long white cloud", even though no part of it means "the land of".

Clouds at sea

Perhaps the most likely explanation for the name is derived from seafaring. The first sign of any land from a boat is often cloud in the sky above the island. To seafaring Polynesians, islands of such unusual size as those of New Zealand must have produced impressively long clouds above them.

Snow-capped mountains

A second possible explanation related to the snow-capped nature of New Zealand's mountains, especially the long chain of the Southern Alps which forms a backbone to the South Island. Polynesian travellers, unused to snow, might well have seen these snowy peaks as a long white cloud.

Twilight land

A third explanation is connected with New Zealand's location below the tropics. Polynesian seafarers would have been used to tropical sunsets, in which the sky goes from daylight to night very rapidly, with little twilight. New Zealand, with its more southerly latitudes, would have provided surprisingly long periods of evening twilight to travellers from the tropics. It has been suggested that this long twilight is the actual origin of the term Aotearoa.

The same explanation - or a related one dealing with the presence of the Aurora Australis - is often given for Stewart Island's Māori name Rakiura, which means "glowing sky".


Originally Māori used Aotearoa to refer only to the North Island. Te Ika a Maui ("The fish of Maui") was another name for the North Island. The South Island was called Te Wai Pounamu ("The greenstone water") or Te Wahi Pounamu ("The greenstone place"). Māori did not have a commonly-used name for the whole New Zealand archipelago in pre-colonial times.

After the European naming of New Zealand, the early Māori name for the country as a whole was Niu Tireni, a transliteration of New Zealand. This name is now rarely used as Māori favour using neologisms created from Māori words rather than transliterations from English.

It is almost certain that the use of Aotearoa to refer to the whole of New Zealand is a post-colonial usage and it has been suggested that this usage was a initiated by Pakeha (non-Māori). Historians (c.f. Michael King) have theorised that it originated from mistakes in an early school textbook (namely, the February 1916 School Journal), thereby being propagated in much the same manner as the myths surrounding the Moriori. Nonetheless it has now had long and widespread use by Māori and in recent times has become increasing popular with non-Māori as well.


The name Aotearoa is used as an alternative name for New Zealand both by Māori and non-Māori alike. It is yet to gain official recognition as a legal alternative name for the country, but its increasing popularity over the last 25 years makes this a possibility. Since the 1990s New Zealand's national anthem God Defend New Zealand has been officially sung bilingually, and as such the use of the term Aotearoa has gained a wider audience.

Popular culture

The term Aotearoa gained an international audience in 1981 with Split Enz's single Six Months in a Leaky Boat, which contained the line:

"Aotearoa, rugged individual, glistens like a pearl at the bottom of the world"

In 1940 Douglas Lilburn composed one of his most famous orchestral works, the overture Aotearoa, which quickly became one of his most popular compositions, and which was played by orchestras both in New Zealand and in Great Britain. Its exposure brought more to the name as well.

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