Jacinda Ardern won't take sides on Hamilton name debate

Jacinda Ardern says it's up to locals whether they want to change their town's colonial names to something more unique to Aotearoa.

Hamilton last week removed a statue of a British army general who gave his name to the town after protesters threatened to forcibly remove it from its place outside the council's buildings in Civic Square. Mayor Paula Southgate on Monday said she didn't want it back there

If - in the wake of the anti-racism protests sweeping the world - the statue's too offensive to display in 2020, then what about the city's name? 

"I'm required and forced to have a view on many, many, many things, but actually there are some things that local people should take a lead on," said Ardern, who attended the University of Waikato from 1999-2001, located in the suburb of Hamilton East. 

"Place names, statues - they're actually rightfully things that are dealt with at a local level. Kirikiriroa, Hamilton - they've already done that with the decision they made recently, and ultimately it is a matter for them."

Kirikiriroa was the name of the Māori settlement on the Waikato River before the British arrived, forcing the Māori out and renaming the area Hamilton - who ironically never set foot in the city. 

Southgate told The AM Show there were no plans to rename the city "at this time", and council was yet to even discuss it, despite pressure from iwi.

"I am aware that Waikato-Tainui would like that discussion to occur, and probably it's a discussion that we need to have. 

"But my personal view is that everybody needs to be in the conversation about cultural sensitivity in our cities - place names and other things as well."

She said she uses Hamilton and Kirikiriroa interchangeably, sometimes using both - like how since 1998, the country's tallest mountain has been officially known as Aoraki/Mt Cook. 

"I think the fact we are now using these place names interchangeably, that we are seeing greater use of Māori names, that's fantastic," added Ardern. "I do want to see us continue to integrate, interchangeably, those names. Not everyone will be familiar with them though, so using them interchangeably, of course, helps with people picking up Te Reo."

Capt John Hamilton statue in Civic Square.
Capt John Hamilton statue in Civic Square. Photo credit: Supplied

Hamilton has considered changing its name in the past. In 1999 the council's marketing department suggested 'Waikato City', which the public hated.

'Hamiltron' - a joke name popularised by student radio presenters around the same time - is still popular today, as is its accompanying slogan 'City of the Future', but unlikely to ever become official.