What’s in a name?

September 24, 2021 by Michael Kuttner
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The simple answer to this conundrum is – “quite a lot it seems.”

Michael Kuttner

Interestingly enough this subject caught my attention as a result of a petition being organized by the New Zealand Maori Party to force a referendum about changing or retaining the country’s name.

Should it continue to be named after a province of Holland or instead should the indigenous name of Aotearoa be substituted as more fitting and relevant?  Concurrently there is also a move afoot to rename cities and geographical locations from their colonial past to more appropriate Maori ones.

Needless to say, these proposals are generating widespread controversy with proponents and opponents advocating either acceptance or rejection.

When I first addressed the subject my immediate reaction was one of, “oh dear, the cancel and woke folk are at it again.” After all, the latest politically correct gospels are all about ditching and obliterating the past and rewriting history so that it conforms to today’s version of groupthink infallible dogmas. Destroying statues, uncovering the racist past of former individuals after whom buildings may be named and erasing all vestiges of colonial occupation are today’s agenda for a myriad of groups and organizations.

This wave of obliterating reminders of an often troubled history knows no bounds and is now an international phenomenon.

You may well ask at this stage why an expatriate Jewish New Zealander now living in Israel should be commenting and writing about name changes down under.

Let me explain how having lived here now for thirty years I have come to the conclusion that names do matter wherever one happens to reside. It is especially relevant for Jews these days and moreover, it helped me to change my mind over the name change controversy in New Zealand.

Living as we do in the hills of Judea, south of our capital, Jerusalem, I am crucially aware of how names can make all the difference.

One of the most potent weapons used by revisionists and deniers of history is to rename areas and places and then peddle them as authentically approved. Thus, the name Palestine is trotted out as somehow divinely ordained and used as a tool to deny Jewish sovereignty. In actual fact of course as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history knows, Palestine was imposed by the Romans as a means of obliterating any reference to Jewish independence. This name then stuck even when the Romans had departed the scene and continued to be employed right up until the end of the British Mandate period. The British naturally had a vested interest in retaining this Roman imposed name because in violation of San Remo and the Balfour Declaration they had no intention of allowing Jews to re-establish an independent nation again.

Likewise, Judea and Samaria (Yehuda and Shomron) which clearly defined the Jewish indigenous presence have been hijacked by the UN and international community and renamed the West Bank.

The same has happened to Jerusalem which thanks to the revisionists is nowadays more often referred to as Al Quds. The Kotel and Har Habayit (Temple Mount) in UN resolutions have been name-changed to Buraq Wall and Haram Al Sharif respectively. The Roman occupiers of Judea also tried to rename the city by calling it Aelia Capitolina in the vain hope that Jews would forget their historical connection to the City of David. No doubt if the United Nations had been around at that time they would have passed a resolution denying any Jewish connection to the city and endorsing the fake Roman version.

The common thread which encompasses these name changes is a desire to obliterate the Jewish indigenous names with those imposed by former Roman and then Muslim colonial occupiers (Ottoman Turks). The same technique is now employed by those designated as our “moderate” peace partners.

The fact that the rest of the world has fallen for this blatant expropriation of Jewish names by those who never existed in the land during the time of Jewish sovereignty merely demonstrates how hypocrisy, double standards and delegitimization have now become the norm when it comes to the Jewish State.

Living here and witnessing how names can indeed be manipulated and used to warp the truth has made me think very seriously about the merits of those in New Zealand who wish to change names from a past colonial era and replace them with indigenous Maori ones.

Why on earth should New Zealand be named after a Dutch province? Abel Tasman may have discovered the country but he never landed or claimed the territory as part of the Dutch colonies. The indigenous name of Aotearoa is not only more appropriate but sounds better. Citizens can still be called KIWIS which is universally recognized although many Israelis still confuse the name with the fruit now widely available.

Why should the country’s political capital and largest commercial city be named after English Generals and its two South Island main cities named after English and Scottish places? Obviously, the British colonial settlers transplanted these from their homeland, but are these reminders of occupation still relevant today? I can sympathize with Maori who now feel in 2021 that the time has come to reclaim their own names for places renamed without their agreement by a colonial occupier intent on creating the country in the image of a homeland on the other side of the world.

Another aspect to consider is the confusion caused by the misappropriation of Maori names. Take Victoria University as an example. Anyone unfamiliar with the fact that this university is located in Wellington could automatically assume that it is situated in the State of Victoria in Australia. Why should a university in the nation’s capital still be called after an English monarch?

A conversation I had not so long ago with a friend here actually made me think more seriously about name changes and their impact.

Visiting our local shopping centre I bumped into someone whose son was touring New Zealand after having completed his three-year army service. Like most Israelis, having endured 36 months of IDF life he was taking the opportunity of sampling the scenic wonders that Aotearoa could offer. His father recounted the experiences his son was reporting and shared some of the beautiful photos he had taken. However, with a worried look on his face, he turned to me and said that it appeared his son had abruptly left and ended up in Austria. When I asked what had prompted this he showed me a photo with the caption, “here I am having a great time in Franz Josef.” It took me a while to convince him that instead of his son being in Austria he was in actual fact enjoying the sights of a well known New Zealand tourist site. This comedy of errors brought home to me the absurdity of retaining the name of an Austrian Emperor for a place which no doubt has a more relevant indigenous name.

At the end of the day, it will be up to citizens to decide whether to retain colonial-settler names or change to those more suited to history. Given the fact that a change of the NZ flag from its colonial past to one more in keeping with today’s reality was defeated, I am not sure that a majority are prepared to make this leap.

Perhaps Kiwis should take note of how a re-established Jewish country not only resurrected Hebrew as a modern language but also replaced names from a colonial past with the original names sourced directly from the Bible and its indigenous origins in the land.

At the end of the day – names do really matter.


3 Responses to “What’s in a name?”
  1. Avi Modlin says:

    In principle I agree with your viewpoint, in the New Zealand case the name proposed was never a Maori name for New Zealand, it was a name dreamed up by an English Pastor in a poem during the late 1800’s. The Maori never had a name for New Zealand at the time the British arrived, so the exercise in name change is pure woke politics.

  2. Harvey Cohen says:

    On my bookshelf is a copy of “The Land and the book”, by W.M. Thomson, D.D., published in London in 1887, clearly demarcating Judea and Samaria.
    This map can be viewed at http://www.jewishhistoryaustralia.net

  3. DAVID SINGER says:

    UN Partition Resolution in 1947 never called for a “Palestinian state” – only an Arab State and a Jewish State.

    There were no “Palestinians” until that term was coined and defined in 1964 in the PLO Charter – which also made no claim to territorial sovereignty in “the West Bank of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”.

    The Arab residents were described only as being part of the “existing non- Jewish communities” in the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.

    “Judea and Samaria” were geographic names used for 3000 years until 1950.

    We are playing into the hands of our enemies by using this new terminology invented by them to erase our history and overthrow the reconstitution of our biblical and ancient Jewish National Home.

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