By: Ngahi Bidois

I don’t remember a lot of my Shakespeare quotes from high school but I do remember the line from Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet says, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

By saying this line, Juliet is referring to the name Montague, Romeo’s whānau name, which was as different from Juliet’s as Tutanekai’s name (and tribe) was to Hinemoa’s.

So what’s in a name? As we head into Māori Language Week 2017, I thought I would look at Māori names and their importance.

My Māori name is Ngahihi o te ra.

It means ‘the rays of the sun’; I was named by elders before I was born.

My son’s name is Eruera, which means ‘wealthy guardian of the word/language’ and my daughter’s name is Tumanako Titihuia Tanirau. Tanirau is my mother’s maiden name and is a well-known Ngāti Tahu/Whaoa name. Tumanako Titihuia means ‘hope, the prized possession’.

When I consider our whānau Māori names, I know those names have been influential in our lives.

For example, Eruera is a guardian of languages and is conversant in Māori, Spanish and English, and is currently learning Dutch as well.

Anyone who knows my daughter will know that she is appropriately named and has brought hope to many situations and people.

So why do people choose Māori names?

For starters, as mentioned above, we name people for the characteristics we would like to see them portray.

In the case of Eruera, he was the first of our children to go to kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori and we wanted his name to signal that he would be all the wealthier and better for learning te reo Māori and being a guardian of the Māori language.

I have Pākehā friends who have given their kids Māori names, so it is obviously not only Māori who use the language in this manner.

Some New Zealanders want their kids to have a New Zealand indigenous name, and it doesn’t get any more indigenous than Māori.

Having said that, when I was at school us Māori kids sometimes gave our Pākehā mates Māori names too, but those names were a bit cheeky to say the least (aye, Koretake!).

It is said that we die twice. The first time is when we die physically and the second time is when our name is mentioned for the last time on Earth.

Some people retain Māori names, and therefore the Māori language, by passing down the names of those they want to remember.

I am sure there are children out there with the name Āpirana who have asked where their name came from and have been told of their tūpuna Āpirana Ngata and his achievements for Māori.

This is similar to English situations; for example, where I have signed my books for people named after celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe or Judy Garland.

Their names ensure that famous ancestors and celebrities are remembered and those people never die that second death.

Others give their loved ones Māori names to keep their whānau name alive so ancestors are remembered, while some use Māori names to remember an event that took place or some special occasion or even a special place that had a Māori name.

Using Māori names is another way of keeping the Māori language alive.

It can also be a challenge for some teachers in our schools to pronounce Māori names correctly and I think that is a good thing.

I have heard every attempt possible at my name and have had my name, Ngahihi o te ra, butchered through the years by people who did not know better, and that’s okay, because I am Māori.

And as a Māori, I refused to let people use my other name, Patrick, even though I was given that name to honour my grandfather who adopted my mum before going overseas to Tunisia, where he lost his life.

In giving people Māori names, we are not only keeping memories of loved ones alive and being prophetic with a child’s life, but we are also honouring one of New Zealand’s three official languages, te reo Maori.

Māori names and their use are a reminder of a language that was nearly lost.

What’s in a Māori name? More than just another Māori Language Week – a lot more.

Me u Māori ma – speak te reo Māori.

– Ngahihi o te ra is from Te Arawa and is an international leadership speaker, author and consultant.

Source: Rotorua Daily Post


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