Why is New Zealand also called 'aotearoa'?

Popular legend has it that "Aotearoa" means "Land of the long white cloud", but that's debatable.

According to the Maori Dictionary, "Aotea" can refer to a variety of greenstone, Great Barrier Island or the canoe that brought some of the ancestors of present-day Maori to North Island.

"Roa" means long.

It was Stephenson Percy Smith, a 19th century ethnologist and the historian William Pember Reeves who popularised the view that "Aotearoa" was the name Polynesians gave to New Zealand.

This has been happily adopted by just about everyone, from the New Zealand tourist office to the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party and let's face it, the melodious, vowel enhanced "Aotearoa" sounds a lot more pleasing than "New Zealand".

However as Michael King, the eminent New Zealand historian pointed out, Maori might have used "Aotea" but only to signify North Island.

In fact North Island was more commonly known to Maori as Te Ika a Maui, "the fish of Maui", referring to the legend that the island was a fish dragged from the sea by the man-god, Maui.

Next time you hear someone use the word "Aotearoa" to mean New Zealand you might care to enlighten them.

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