New Zealand's dodgy place names and who they're named after

New Zealand's colonial place names are coming under scrutiny, with complaints too many are named after imperialists, racists and war criminals.

Their labelling is sparking increased debate following the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests around the world.

Now, as controversial statues are torn down around the world, activists say glorifying colonial-era figures with geographic place names needs to stop.

How did New Zealand get its names?

During the colonial settlement of New Zealand, the new arrivals named places after their wealthy sponsors, immigrant ships, and those seen as exemplars of the British Empire.

"Since most non-Māori New Zealanders came from the United Kingdom, they looked to place names to create a sense of home and proclaim their membership of the British Empire," Te Ara, the encyclopedia of New Zealand, says on its website.

"Heroes of the Empire's battles were recalled in such place-names as Auckland, Eden, Rodney, Raglan, Clive, Napier, Hastings, Havelock, Wellington, Picton, Marlborough, Nelson, Collingwood, and Wyndham (after the Crimean War general Windham)."

What are some New Zealand settlements with controversial names?


The Waikato city now known as Hamilton was originally called Kirikiriroa before the British arrived, forced the Māori out and renamed the area.

Hamilton is named after British captain John Fane Charles Hamilton, who died leading British forces in the Battle of Gate Pā in 1864 - one of the most important battles of the New Zealand Wars, which led to widespread Māori land confiscation.

Waikato-Tainui iwi chair Rukumoana Schaafhausen says they "certainly favour Kirikiriroa over Hamilton".

"Kirikiriroa was acquired as a result of the New Zealand Settlements Act passed in 1863, and that resulted in just over 1.2 million hectares of our land being confiscated," he says.

"The name Hamilton does really confront us as the stark reminder of the raupatu - the confiscations."


In the South Island, the Marlborough town of Picton is named after Sir Thomas Picton, who is known for his brutality while Governor of Trinidad and his role in the slave trade.

Eyreton and West Eyreton

In Canterbury, the towns of Eyreton and West Eyreton are named after Edward John Eyre, who served as the Lieutenant Governor of the South Island in the 1800s before leaving to become governor of several Caribbean islands.

His time as the Governor of Jamaica was marred by the brutal suppression of a rebellion.


The central Otago town of Cromwell is named after Oliver Cromwell, who carried out an invasion of Ireland from 1649-53.

During this war, he oversaw the massacre of civilians and the confiscation of Catholic land. The end result has been characterised by some historians as ethnic cleansing.

What's already been renamed?

New Zealand's geographical names have already been updated in recent years.

In 2016, three controversial place names in north Canterbury that contained the N-word were renamed.

N***** Stream is now officially known as Pukio Stream, N****head as Tawhai Hill, and N***** Hill as Kanuka Hill.