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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)


Every schoolboy knows why this country is named “New Zealand,” but perhaps the fact has been forgotten that about a hundred years ago it was seriously proposed that the name should be changed. One reason advanced was that Tasman did not land in New Zealand, and therefore could not have taken possession of it in the name of his country.

It was also argued that the Dutch did not follow up the discovery, and that in any case it was doubtful whether Tasman was the first white explorer to discover New Zealand. Though the evidence to support the claim is far from conclusive, it is possible that Portuguese navigators knew of the existence of this country long before the time of Tasman.

However, the crowning reason was that a British colony ought to have a British name. Various names were suggested, including New Britain, but no official notice was taken of the proposal, and in time it was forgotten.

The names, North, Middle, and South Islands persisted for a long time. As J. A. Bathgate says in his book, “Colonial Experiences,” “The individual who first gave the names … must have possessed a mind somewhat resembling that of the worthy minister of the Cumbraes (two small islands in the Firth of Clyde) who used to pray for a blessing on the Great Cumbrae, and the Little Cumbrae, and the adjacent islands of Great Britain and Ireland.”