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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 5 (August 1, 1935)

The Wisdom of the Maori — Railway Station Names, And Their Meanings

page 45

The Wisdom of the Maori
Railway Station Names, And Their Meanings.

It has been suggested that some explanation of the New Zealand railway station names which are Maori would be of much interest to many readers of this Magazine. Travellers naturally inquire the meaning of the native words which form the greater proportion of the names of railway stations, and for the most part their questions go unanswered. The pronunciation of the language is also a puzzle to many, although it is in reality so simple and so easily acquired. Many names are popularly mispronounced, often because when an accent occurs it is wrongly placed. Maori is phonetic in form, thanks to the excellent system adopted by the pioneer missionaries in the North who reduced the language to writing. Once the vowel values are learned there is little difficulty in pronunciation. There are no silent vowels.

Vowels have two values, a full sound and a short. Examples: Long a as in Kāwiti, Kākā short a as in Katikati. The ordinary long sound of e is heard in pehea (pay-hay-ah), hoé (ho-ay); short e as in the English words “pet,” “send,” “ferry”: examples, méré, (merray), peke (pekkay). I is pronounced as ee in “keep,” “sheep.” Examples: Ariki (ah-ree-kee), miere (mee-eh-ray). Short sound of i as in piri, kiri. O is pronounced as in the English word “note.” Rotorua should be pronounced Ro-toh-roo-ah, not Rot-or-rooah, as often heard. U is pronounced as oo as in “cool,” “pool,” and as u in “pull.” Examples: puta (poo-tah), pure (pooray), puke (poo-kay), hue (hoo-ay).

The dipthong ai is pronounced much as i in “high,” “sigh,” “shine.” Examples: kai, mai, tai.Ae is given a broader sound in which each vowel should be given its value; waewae should not be sounded as waiwai, but more like the broad Scottish “aye.”

Ao is distinct from au, which is a shorter, sharper sound. The vowels in the names Aotearoa and Aorangi are generally mispronounced. The correct values are learned by saying slowly Ah-oh-tay-ah-ro-ah; Ah-oh-rah-ngee.

The exact placing of the emphasis on a particular syllable can only be learned by practice. In Matata (railway station name) the last a is pronounced long. The name Putaruru is usually mispronounced, something like “p'tarra-roo.” It should be sounded “Poo-tah-roo-roo,” without marked accent on any particular syllable.

North Auckland Names.

Beginning in the North Auckland country and working southward, I give in the following list the names of railway stations and their meanings. Some of them carry stories and legends, too long to be explained here. The series will be continued in succeeding numbers of the Magazine.


O, sacred food; kaihau, a priest whose duty is to eat sacred offerings to the gods.


Eating the kohekohe fruit and leaves; so named because a hill at this place abundantly grown with the kohekohe tree was a great feeding place for the pigeon and other native birds.


The decorative plumes or wands at the bow of a war-canoe; the tribe called Ngāpuhi (the most numerous in New Zealand).


Timber for spear-making (rakau= tree; tao=spear).


Named after the chief Kawiti, of the Bay of Islands district, who fought the British at Kororāreka, Ohaeawai and Ruapekapeka (1845–46).


The place of flowers; Pua's place; also porch or verandah of a house.


Chant by a tohunga when planting the first kumara in a cultivation.


The small tree Macropiper excelsum, which has numerous medicinal uses.


The middle or centre; a house with the entrance in the middle of its side wall.


Talking to oneself.


Many snags; also a line carrying many nooses placed above a water-trough in the bush or a pool, to catch pigeons when they come to drink.


Wet kilt or loin-mat.


The tree Weinmannia sylvicola. The bark, like that of the tanekaha, is useful because it contains much tannin.


Aceldama, the Hebrew “field of blood,” a name given by the natives in the missionary days, taken from the Maori translation of the Bible (Acts i, 19).


Great cascade.


Sacred waters of Tu the war-god; pool or stream where ceremonies were performed to Tu.


To make a clearing in the bush.


The place of Tonga; of the South.


A deep pit, or recess in the rocks; a chasm; a coal mine.


Skyline; crest of a ridge; the last rays of light on the mountainous horizon. An ancient name from Polynesia, given to many New Zealand scenes.


Original full name kauri-hohore, meaning the bare or bald-topped or smooth-barrelled kauri tree.


Cave in which people lived.


Bubbling up; the mineral water springs welling up from the earth.


Long rat; also kiore-moana, sea-horse or hippocampus; and a carving pattern.


Stream of good water.


Long rope.


Pool or stream where wands or sticks were set up on the bank in sacred ceremonies; water of incantation.


Stream of the climbing plant Freycinetia Banksii.


A very high tide.


Long flat rock; level expanse of land.


Abundant fruit.


Mountain standing in a lake. Several of the volcanic peaks in North Auckland are surrounded by depressions of swampy land, originally lagoons.