The Museum's Natural Sciences team has embarked on a massive project to give te reo Māori names to over 100,000 specimens. But what happens when a speciman has seven names in te reo? 
As part of this year’s Te Wiki o te Reo Māori, Severine Hannam, Collection Manager, Natural Sciences discusses the project and the big hurdles they have ahead.

I am proud to part of a Museum guided by He Korahi Māori (A Māori Dimension). Staff at our Museum are increasingly embracing te reo Māori. Be it through the Museum’s language courses or staff waiata (songs) and pepeha (introductions), or simply day-to-day in meetings, there are many opportunities at the Museum to embrace te reo. However, our Natural Sciences collection team are also embracing te reo in another, less visible, way. 

Amid the Age of Enlightenment, European scientists sought to standardise a system of naming species of animals and plants. This method, known as Linnean classification, describes organisms through a nomenclature of Latin names ending with a unique combination of a genus (generic name) and a species (specific name). Today, Linnean classification has become the universal standard for the scientific naming of natural specimens (learn more from Dr Leilani Walker). Thus, it is used for the naming of such specimens within Museums, including Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Our Museum’s Natural Sciences team has recently embarked on a project to include in our collection database and online the te reo Māori names for the natural sciences specimens in our care. The size of the project is huge; our Museum houses over a million natural sciences objects – plants, insects birds, shells and many others – that are represented by over 100,000 unique scientific names using the Linnean classification. We are compiling a list of te reo Māori names for these specimens with the assistance of Knowledge Holders and external resources, such as Ngata Dictionary and Te Aka Online Māori Dictionary, to source correct names and spelling.







Alcithoe arabica


Arabic Volute

Püpü Rore

So far, we have assembled several hundred te reo Māori names alongside existing scientific names. The project has a long way to go as we continue to add new species to our Linnaean classification list. We are improving our process of how we add these to our database to better demonstrate the importance of their te reo names. Our process to putting the terms online is also slow, but this is necessary as our team carefully work to ensure terms are correct through proper consultation.


Background image: A püpü rore, or Alcithoe swainsoni motutaraensis; MA72006; © Auckland Museum CC BY

Inputting names into Collections Online

Other names have been entered under the classification to make the names visible and searchable on Auckland Museum Collections Online. 
Click here to see the specimen in Collections for yourself.

We have met some challenges in naming specimens. In particular, the team were challenged naming the Horse Mussel Atrina zelandica, a bivalve that has been given seven different names. Similarly, the Willow-leaf Hebe Hebe salicifolia has been given three different names. So far, we have selected just one term and entered it into the database. But is choosing just one of many terms the right approach for the rich language of te reo Māori?

Image: An Atrina zelandica, or horse mussel; MA121309.

Although far less visible, this mahi is an important way of increasing the presence of te reo Māori at our Museum and within the Collections. It wouldn't be possible without all the expertise involved in this kaupapa, from the Knowledge Holders, scientists, database technicians, IT specialists to the public… it takes a village. Te Wiki o te Reo Māori could change to te reo Māori every day.

As a person born and raised in New Caledonia, where French is the only official language, I see the progress made by New Zealanders to be well ahead of the rest of the world. Te reo Māori has been an official language since the 1987 Māori Language Act, which also established a commission to protect and promote te reo. Today, te reo has become embedded in our daily life. It is now commonplace to start an email with ‘kia ora’, even if the email is destined to an overseas recipient. 

I have learnt of the hardship Māori people experienced when they were punished for speaking te reo Māori. When I see the progress of my children starting to use te reo Māori daily, I am relieved to see it is not too late; this beautiful language is not going to disappear. 


Background image: A hururoa, or Atrina zelandica; MA121309; © Auckland Museum CC BY