New Zealand's islands need names

April 21, 2009 4:06:46 AM PDT
Experts searching for alternative Maori names for New Zealand's two main islands were startled to find their commonly used English names - North Island and South Island - were never made legal, officials said Tuesday.

To repair the 200-year-old oversight, the country's Geographic Board said it would take steps to legally name the two South Pacific islands that make up more than 95 percent of New Zealand's land area.

The board had spent several years exploring a process for formally recognizing alternative Maori names for each island when it noticed that the islands had never been given official names, board chairman Don Grant said.

"While researching this issue, we noted that 'North Island' and 'South Island' are actually not official names under our legislation, despite their common long-term usage," Grant said.

The New Zealand Geographic Board assigns, approves, alters or discontinues the use of place names for land features, undersea features and protected areas in New Zealand, its offshore islands and its continental shelf and in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.

South Island, the larger of the pair, is also known locally as "the Mainland," while North Island, where three-quarters of the population lives, is also called "Pig Island," partly for the wild pigs that English explorer James Cook brought during a visit and that still roam in the wilderness.

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