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The Reed Dictionary of Māori Place Names

28 July 2010

Te Papakupu Ingoa Wāhi Māori a Reed

A dictionary of Māori place names, 1st edition (left) and 2nd edition (right)

This book is the successor to “Maori Place Names and their Meanings”, first published in 1950. Researched and compiled by A.W. Reed, the first edition was published in 1961. After 5 reprints, a second edition followed in 1982, three years after the death of the author. 9 reprints and 14 years later, the third edition still carries Reed’s name – in recognition of the fact that this is his original work, and little has changed since it was first published. Newer editions only differ in “small matters of consistency, ambiguity and corrections of factual errors.” The main improvement in the third edition is the introduction of macrons, to assist correct pronunciation.

The Reed dictionary of Māori place names, 3rd edition

While researching the topic, Reed soon realized that “there are many problems to be faced when attempting a literal translation of Māori place names, many of which go back to early days; some indeed were used in the homeland of Hawaiki and transplanted to the soil of Aotearoa. Others had their origins in history and legend and have been lost, or are too long to recount in a small book. Some names have suffered alteration and distortion; some are modern names; some are too easily translated, giving false and ludicrous conclusions; and some are quite untranslatable.”

“The Pākehā reader will realise how futile it would be to attempt to translate English names in New Zealand for the benefit of Māori readers: what would he make, for instance, of such names as Gore, Nightcaps, Huntly, Cashmere, Fortrose, Dunedin, Auckland, Shotover and Drury? A similar problem faces us when we attempt to make a literal translation of Māori names […] On the other hand the Māori was closer to nature than the Pākehā; common words for wood and water, wind and cloud and soil were frequently incorporated in his names. Commonsense and direct translation provided most of the answers in the original collection[…]”

The bulk of this gazetteer is a dictionary where Māori place names and their meaning or origins are listed in alphabetical order. The first page gives hints on pronunciation, and is followed by a list of Māori words which commonly form part of place names. An appendix at the end of the book contains a list of European place names (in alphabetical order), and the original Māori counterparts. All up, this book is very user-friendly, and provides an invaluable resource when trying to understand many of the most obscure (to Pākehā) place names in our backcountry.


Reed, A.W. (1996) The Reed Dictionary of Māori Place Names, 3rd Edition. Published by Reed Books. 144 pages



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