Chris Trotter writes a provocative column on the great Wanganui debate (personally I have no problems with it going to Whanganui as Wanganui was basically a typo):
For a start, I am more than a little disturbed to learn that the Geographic Board is legally obliged to replace English with Maori place-names wherever possible.
This suggests to me that the New Zealand state will not be content until all evidence of its colonial history has been, quite literally, wiped off the map.
WHO IS responsible for this extraordinary policy? Did anyone seek the endorsement of the New Zealand electorate before embarking on what can only be called a campaign of historical ethnic cleansing?
Are the achievements of our pioneering ancestors worth so little that all trace of their presence and contribution is to be expunged?
The place-names chosen by the early settlers to animate the landscapes they were creating reveal much about both their personalities and their aspirations.
What and who we are is inextricably bound up with the words we choose to describe both ourselves and our surroundings.
While I have no issue with Wanganui being Whanganui, I think Chris does have a very valid point. I ma proud that Wellington is named after the Duke of Wellington. I am proud to live on Hobson Street – named after Governor Hobson who signed the Treaty of Waitangi. I would not want to see these names disappear over time.
Let me tell you about Bowalley Road, the rough gravel track that runs past the farm where I grew up in the early 1960s.
Geoffrey Miller happens to drive past Bowalley Road a few days ago. He took these two snaps.
And the road itself.
The proper noun Bowalley is a corruption of another proper noun, Bewley, which is a corruption of the French adjective beaulieu, meaning beautiful place, which itself became a proper noun when Charles Suisted, a Swedish settler who, having acquired that part of the North Otago coast lying to the north of the Waianakarua River and east of Mt Charles in the 1850s, bestowed that name upon it.
When my father came to purchase the property, nearly a century later, Beaulieu was still its name.
By that time, however, the locals, who struggled with the correct French pronunciation of Beaulieu, had taken to referring to the property as either Bewley or Bowalley.
Another version of Bowalley was Baldie, which eventually became The Baldie, signifying the little creek that runs through the property, and empties, via a marshy delta, into the Pacific Ocean at the end of Bowalley Rd.
Obliterate the names Beaulieu, Bewley, Bowalley and Baldie and you obliterate the linguistic legacy of all the lives that have been lived in that part of North Otago since the beginning of European settlement nearly 190 years ago.
The point Chris makes, quite elegantly, is even typos or corruptions, can come to have real meaning over time.