Changing the name of Russell back to its Māori name, Kororāreka, could be a bold and precedent-setting move for New Zealand, according to the NZ Geographic Board.
Land Information Minister Damien O’Connor is tasked with deciding the name for the historic Bay of Islands town, after the board – Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa – failed to decide at its June hui.
The proposal to restore the name of Kororāreka, backed by Te Rūnanga ā Iwi o Ngāpuhi and Far North District Council, attracted 1800 submissions at the start of the year.
The Geographic Board has already given a nod to an outright change, after supporting the proposal to go to consultation in its December 2022 hui.
* Russell could be Kororāreka by the end of 2023
* Russell locals already calling the town Kororāreka, as name ‘restoration’ proposed
* Proposal to change name of Russell township to original Māori name
Minutes from the meeting show the board also considered using Kororāreka and Russell as dual names, such as Aoraki/Mt Cook, or as alternate names, such as Taranaki or Mt Egmont.
While the board thought using alternate names would allow for a smooth transition, it decided the name Kororāreka was already well known and accepted.
It said an outright change was a courageous move and would be a test case in New Zealand for such a populated place.
“The board noted that there is a groundswell for change in New Zealand, and having a complete name change would be a progressive and bold move – and now could be the right time,” the minutes say.
The board also said Lord Russell, the British Prime Minister that the area was named after, was a progressive politician.
The name Russell would still be present in nearby Russell Forest and Russell Rd, it said.
The proposal to restore Russell to Kororāreka was first received in September 2021 but needed further information before the Geographic Board could consider it.
The board accepted the proposal for public consultation in December 2022 but decided not to consult over the Christmas break.
Public consultation from January to April attracted over 1800 submissions, showing a strong level of community interest, said Wendy Shaw, hēkeretari (secretary) of Pou Taunaha/Geographic Board.
The board then called its next hui early, on June 22, to consider submissions but found it could not uphold objections to the proposal.
Because the board failed to make a determination, the decision has been passed to the Land Information Minister.
A final decision is expected before the end of the year.
An unscientific Stuff poll of more than 18,000 readers found 57% want Russell to keep its name, instead of switching to Kororāreka.