Sunday, January 1, 2012

Naming places

To name a place gives us power over it, some say. Naming is certainly tied up with identity, and what significance a place has for us.
The place I’m starting out from in writing this blog is the place I am now – Karaveer, my parents’ home on five hectares in rural Northland.

‘Kara’ after the locality where they live, 10 kilometres west of Whangarei. ‘Veer’ – from Dutch, my father’s language. It means a spring (as in a water source or fountain), also a ferry, or a jumping off point to a new direction - like the English word ‘veer’.

The Māori word ‘kara’ is a transliteration of ‘colour’, and is used as the word for ‘flag’. It’s apt then that I start from this place – running up my colours, and taking my writing life in a new direction.

This is also the place I spent my last year of high school, and first year in full-time work, before going to university. I return to Karaveer almost every year, round Christmas/New Year, now with own family of three girls. It still remains a ‘home’.
It occurred to me while sailing recently between New Zealand’s two main islands – ‘North’ and ‘South’ – that they’re pretty bland names. Sure, they’re practical, and at least you know where you are; but they don’t do much for the imagination. On 4 December, approaching Tory Channel, I wrote:
It is not the ‘South Island’. That is too boring and straightforward a name.
It is ‘Te Wai Pounamu’.
– a name that signifies the meaning and value of the island to Māori. The waters of the pounamu, or greenstone. It is a far more colourful name – in any language.
Similarly, the waterway near where I live was first named Te Awa Kairangi – the river of great value – by the Ngāi Tara, the first inhabitants of the river valley. The English name for it – the Hutt River - derives from someone who never set foot here: one of the directors of the New Zealand Company that ‘organised’ (so they say) European settlement here.


  1. I like the way this weaves between words and places, Kes. Very nice meandering between Te Wai Pounamu and Northland. Looking forward to reading more from you...

  2. This is an interesting reflection and has certainly made me think about the way place names can fix locations in both time and space. New Zealand is particularly interesting in its mixture of the prosaic to the point of dullness and narrative to the point of revelation in its place names, as you point out. Is Germany like this as well - can anyone out there enlighten me?
    Incidently, you have set me thinking about one of my own poems - I will put my thoughts in my blog soon: