Change Makers - High school students' website teaches correct pronunciation of Māori and Pasifika names

  • 01/10/2021
  • Sponsored by - Dell

Ten high school students from Porirua are hoping a new website they've made will help teach people how to pronounce Māori and Pasifika names correctly. 

Fa'amalosi - which means 'be strong' in Samoan - has been up and running for less than a month but already features more than 800 names in half a dozen languages and has around 650 subscribers.

Fa'amalosi's co-chief executives, 16-year-olds To'e Lokeni and Mannfred Sofara, say the group of Bishop Viard College students was inspired to start the company after realising that having their names mispronounced was a common problem for Māori and Pasifika students.

To'e, who is named after his mother's father, says it's not only frustrating but also feels disrespectful. "I kind of feel embarrassed and insecure sometimes," he says.

"All names have different meanings behind them and stories, so it's important that people get the pronunciation right for names, just to show respect to the names."

After brainstorming about what common problems students faced, the group hit on the idea of creating the resource and the name for it.

"We thought why not create a website as this will be the easiest way to get our message out there," says Mannfred.

"And fa'amalosi, stay strong, say it right. Fa'amalosi, stand up if you've had your name mispronounced."

Fa'amalosi was started after the group realised that having their names mispronounced was a common problem for Māori and Pasifika students.
Fa'amalosi was started after the group realised that having their names mispronounced was a common problem for Māori and Pasifika students. Photo credit: Supplied

The team behind Fa'amalosi is this month's Dell Change Maker. Dell and The Project have been recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign.

The resource has a one-off cost of $4.99 and features names in te reo Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Tokelauan, and Kiribati. Users can click on names to hear their correct pronunciation and see them written down both phonetically and correctly. 

Support so far has been strong, and the pair are hoping the popularity will continue to rise as more names are added.

"We're hoping that schools around the world will use this and also businesses."

The pronunciations were recorded by the students themselves, as well as by people in the local community.

Users can also send through names they would like to be included in the database, which the team will "get done as soon as possible".

"We also have an FAQ page on our website, if you have any questions that you would like answered we're willing to answer them for you," says Mannfred.

To'e and Mannfred say as well as having a great team behind them, they also had help from teachers and others in the community.

"We didn't do this by ourselves, we reached out to our community and we had experts come through for us."

They also say one of the best parts of creating the website was "connecting with our community and letting them share their knowledge with us, because part of our business was to acknowledge our indigenous and Māori and Pasifika cultures as much as we can".

"So part of that was just listening to them and sharing their knowledge with us. And also having the courage to speak."

The next goal for the team is to turn the resource into an app, as well as expanding the website to "make it next level".

As well as reinvesting some of the profits already raised back into the business, the CEOs say they are also planning to "reward ourselves for our hard work with a business trip".

To'e advises any other young people thinking of starting such a business to not just sit around and think about doing it but to dive in and take action.

"Just give it a go," he says. 

"And also reach for support."

This article is brought to you by Dell.