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Maori Nomenclature, by W.H.S. Roberts

31 July 2011

Reprinted from Otago Daily Times

“When I landed in New Zealand in 1855 the Europeans had the opportunity of seeing more of the Aborigines than they have at the present time, as the numbers have greatly decreased, especially in the Middle Island. The melodious Maori language was then spoken by the Natives in its pristine purity, whereas now it is intermixed with so many English words Maoricised, that it is difficult to determine which are pure”.

Southland pioneer W.H. Sherwood Roberts was one of very few early European settlers who recognized the importance of recording Maori lore and nomenclature before it fell into oblivion. He took notes from oral interviews with Maori elders, then published a series of articles in the Otago Daily Times and other newspapers, which were later collated into a number of books.

This volume, Maori Nomenclature, delves into Maori legends, history and nomenclature as well as early European history for Westland, Nelson, Marlborough and Akaroa. Other regions of the South Island are dealt with in Place Names and Early History of Otago and Southland, in Maori Nomenclature: Names in Canterbury…, and in Maori Nomenclature: Early History of Otago.

The book has a decidedly disjoint feeling, as it is collated from a series of independent newspaper articles. Much information is replicated, many anecdotes being repeated with identical wording in back to back paragraphs. Without an index or any maps, retrieving any specific piece of information may feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. It is thanks to Robert’s work, however, that many Maori place names for geographical locations throughout the South Island have been preserved. Many of these place names were later accepted by the New Zealand Geographic Board, and feature as the official names on today’s maps.


Roberts, W.H.S. (1912) Maori Nomenclature. Otago Daily Times, Dunedin, New Zealand. 103 pages

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