The Cook Islands is following in the footsteps of Mount McKinley (now Denali), and considering a name change to reflect its true indigenous roots. The group of 15 islands in the South Pacific was named after British explorer James Cook in 1835, but that name has heavy colonial associations which don’t reflect the islands’ Polynesian heritage. The name change committee, launched in January, is gaining widespread support for the proposal, and it’s currently in the process of evaluating 60 names received from public submissions.
According to Danny Mataroa, chair of the committee, the goal is to submit the top name choice to the government by April. The committee is looking for something that’s easy to pronounce, but also steeped in local culture and history. Mataroa told RNZ Pacific that the name must reflect the country’s Christian faith, Māori heritage, and its national pride. There no clues yet as to what that name might be, but Avaiki Nui — a name that locals use for the islands — is considered to be a top contender.
Mark Brown, Cook Islands deputy prime minister, expressed his support of the name change, telling RNZ Pacific, “I’m quite happy to look at a traditional name for our country which more reflects the true Polynesian nature of our island nation.”
This isn’t the first time the Cook Islands has considered a name change. A proposal to change the name was rejected in the 1990s, but Mataroa insists this time is different. Now, all 12 chiefs from the country’s inhabited islands are engaged in the process, which is very encouraging.