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Aotearoa (pronounced Māori: [ˈaɔˌtɛaɾɔa] or commonly [aʊˌtɪəˈroʊə]( listen) by English speakers) is the most widely known and accepted Māori name for New Zealand. It is used by both Māori and non-Māori, and is becoming increasingly widespread in the bilingual names of national organisations, such as the National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa.[1]



The original derivation of Aotearoa is not known for certain. The word can be broken up as: ao = cloud, tea = white and roa = long, and it is therefore usually glossed as "the land of the long white cloud". In some traditional stories, Aotearoa was the name of the canoe of the explorer Kupe, and he named the land after it. Kupe's wife (in some versions, his daughter) was watching the horizon and called "He ao! He ao!" ("a cloud! a cloud!"). Other versions say the canoe was guided by a long white cloud in the course of the day and by a long bright cloud at night. On arrival, the sign of land to Kupe’s crew was the long cloud hanging over it. The cloud caught Kupe’s attention and he said “Surely is a point of land”. Because of the cloud which greeted them, Kupe named the land Aotearoa.[2] Aotearoa can also be broken up as: aotea-roa. Aotea is the name of one of the Māori migration canoes. The first land sighted was accordingly named Aotea (Cloud), now Great Barrier Island. When a much larger landmass was found beyond Aotea, it was called Aotea-roa (Long Aotea).[3]


The use of Aotearoa to refer to the whole of New Zealand is a post-colonial usage. In pre-colonial times, Māori did not have a commonly-used name for the whole New Zealand archipelago. Until the 20th century, 'Aotearoa' was used to refer to the North Island only. As an example from the late 19th century, the first issue of Huia Tangata Kotahi, a Māori language newspaper, dated 8 February 1893, contains the dedication on page 1: 'He perehi tenei mo nga iwi Māori, katoa, o Aotearoa, mete Waipounamu' (This is a publication for the all Māori tribes of Aotearoa and the South Island), where 'Aotearoa' can only mean the North Island.[4] One of the earliest references to Aotearoa as referring to the whole of New Zealand is William Pember Reeves' history of New Zealand The Long White Cloud Ao-tea-roa published in 1898 [5]

Historians (e.g., Michael King) have suggested that the use of Aotearoa to mean 'New Zealand' was initiated by Pākehā (non-Māori). He theorises that it originated from mistakes in the February 1916 School Journal and was propagated in a similar manner to the myths surrounding the Moriori. In light of Reeves' earlier usage this theory is now discredited. Influenced by this English-language usage, Aotearoa is now the term used in Māori.

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