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Otago Place Names, by Herries Beattie

15 June 2010

Published 62 years ago, this is the only volume I’ve been able to find that is specifically dedicated to place names in Otago. At the time, the province of Otago included Fiordland and Southland.

To say that this work is out of date would be an understatement. It was compiled in times long gone, when computers didn’t exist, libraries didn’t have catalogues, and researching information involved hours and hours of reading, and interviews to people armed with better local knowledge. By today’s standards, this gazetteers is of very little use, and may be worth more as a collectors’ item rather than for the information it contains.

Approximately 4,500 place-names are listed – this is an estimate by Herries Beattie, for no-one has actually counted them. And, horror of all horrors, they are not in alphabetical order, but are grouped by origin instead – names bestowed by run-holders, early settlers, surveyors, explorers, sealers and whalers, etc. The problem being that the origin of a name is a piece of information I wish to learn from this book, rather than having to find a name by knowing its origin. I have worked out a laborious solution to this problem by digitizing the whole book and converting it into a fully searchable .pdf file. Anyone interested, I’m happy to supply an electronic copy for an appropriate fee.

Even in electronic form, the book has its limitations – many names are simply listed, without any comments as to their meaning, while other names are described as being ‘of obvious meaning or origin’. Well the meaning may have been obvious to the author, it certainly isn’t to the reader. The origins of other names still are admittedly ‘best guesses’ by Beattie – and information found in more recent studies shows that his guesses were incorrect more often than not.

Without detracting anything from a work that must have been impressive in its times, I can comfortably state that there’s scope for a scholar in history to completely re-write this book.


Beattie, H. (1948) Otago Place Names, as bestowed by the Pakeha and jotted down by Herries Beattie. Otago Daily Times and Witness Newspapers Co., Ltd., Dunedin. 120 pages.

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