Cook Islands To Change Their Name To Cut Ties With Captain Cook

The islands want a name that better reflect their 'Polynesian nature.'

Athletes from the Cook Islands enjoy the atmosphere as they walk on the parade of nations during the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games
Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

The islands want a name that better reflect their 'Polynesian nature.'

The Cook Islands in the South Pacific, named for Captain James Cook, are in the market for a name change to better embrace their culture and “Polynesian nature.”

Express reports that residents of the islands want to drop the connection with Cook, the 18th-century British explorer, and choose something that reflects its Maori connection. The chain of islands, located northeast of New Zealand, was spotted by Captain James Cook from his ship in 1770, and were a British protectorate until 1975. In that year, the islands became independent, but continue their relationship with New Zealand.

The government of the Cook Islands initially recommended that they select an indigenous name to go along with Cook, but the residents of the island overwhelmingly decided that they’d prefer to choose a name in the Maori language. Any official change will have to be ratified by a referendum according to committee chairman Danny Mataroa.

“When the committee members, which include Cook Islands historians and people with deep traditional knowledge, met we decided it was time we change the name of the country.”

Mataroa says that the perfect name would represent the nation’s Christian faith as well as its Maori heritage.

“And it must instill a sense of pride in our people, and unite our people. It must also be easy to say.”

The 12,000 residents of the Cook Islands will all be able to vote on the names submitted by the public, and the new name will be presented to the government in April. Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown has stated that it’s important that with the name change, all of the residents of the Cook Islands feel like they got to weigh in on the new name.

In 1994 there was a vote to change the name of the Cook Islands to Avaiki Nui, which was a popular Maori name for the island chain. But the referendum to make the change at that time was defeated.

CNN says that the majority of the inhabitants of the Cook Islands want a name that is less colonial and more traditional. At this time the Maori name for the island chain is Kūki ‘Āirani, which is a transliteration of the English words Cook Islands rather than an indigenous term or name.

The largely Maori population of the Cook Islands are seeking to leave behind the name “Cook,” which is thought to represent imperialism and colonialism. Last year a statue of Captain James Cook in Australia’s Sydney’s Hyde Park was vandalized with the words “no pride in genocide.”