National | Otago

University of Otago gets new Māori name in first rebranding for more than a century

For the first time in 154 years, the University of Otago is substantially changing its brand.

While keeping its English name, the university will see its Māori name change from Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo to Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka, a metaphor meaning ‘A place of many firsts’, which will take effect from May 2024.

The new name will also be backed up with a new symbol, created in collaboration between the university and mana whenua.

Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou chairman Edward Ellison (Ngāi Tahu) explained the story behind the name change when speaking to teaomā

“We raised the idea that the name they have, Otago, is the transliteration of Ōtākou, which is the name of the eastern channel entering Otago Habour, and a channel where many waka came and left, and equally the channel through which settlers came to this area. That’s really how the idea came to be.”

Public not so keen

Though the project started four years ago, the consultations with students, staff, alumni, international partners and more began only six months ago. Although most of the consulting group responded in support of the changes, Ellison says the public response was the opposite.

“I think people were clinging to something that had been in place for 154 years and they didn’t see the merit, I suppose you might say.

“They didn’t understand or appreciate, fully, the ambition of the university to become a Tiriti-led university, and this rebranding was part of that.”

Ellison says the change for people accustomed to the norm will be a challenge right up until May next year and beyond but is optimistic that more people will be on board as time goes by.

Public Interest Journalism