Whanganui is a town near the bottom of the North Island but it's most commonly known as the town with the unknown name. Is it Wanganui or Whanganui?

According to Land Information New Zealand, the area received the name Whanganui from Haunui-a-Nanaia (Hau), a chief who arrived in New Zealand on the Aotea waka.

An official name change to Wanganui took place on January 20, 1854. The city’s spelling was then corrected to Whanganui in 2017, which in te reo Māori can be interpreted as ”big bay or big harbour”.

Iwi historian Che Wilson (Ngāti Rangi-Whanganui, Tūwharetoa, Mōkai Pātea, Ngāti Apa, Ngā Rauru) says the town’s spelling is always with an “h” (Whanganui) unless tribal variations spell it their way. 

For example, Tūhoe speakers change the “ng” sound into an “n” sound, while Ngāi Tahu and Kai Tahu in the South Island change the "ng" sound into a "k" sound. 

Wilson says the town has always been Whanganui but because Māori from Whanganui have a different mita (dialect) to other iwi they drop their “h” which makes it sound like wah-nga-nui. 

“The spelling ‘Wanganui’ means nothing,” Wilson says.

So how should everyone pronounce it? 

“If you're Māori from Whanganui, it’s pronounced [Wah-nga-nui] and if you're not from there it's pronounced [Far-nga-nui],” Wilson says.

“It’s that simple; it's no different to to-may-to and to-mah-to.” 

Top Image: A shot of Whanganui. Photo: Getty Images

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