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Maori Word Meanings

The following glossary attempts to give the meanings of various Maori words and word components, for the purpose of assisting to give meaning to place names within the Auckland region, which is the area of activity for Civic Trust Auckland.

It is important to note that most Maori words have several different meanings. This makes it quite difficult to ascertain the likely meaning of Maori place names. For example, in Auckland the place name Tamaki could be taken literally for its meaning battle, but it could also refer to a proper name. Another example is the Maori word component tau, normally taken to mean the number two.

The word component rua has several meanings and these can differ depending on whether it comes at the beginning or end of a word. From the Reed dictionary of New Zealand place names it can be seen that the term rua in the word Ruahine could possibly be translated to mean cave, while the same component has the normal meaning of two in the name Tararua, both examples from the southern North Island. Please read the dictionary for its interpretations of these two names, particularly the rather humorous explanation given to the meaning of Tararua.

It is unfortunate that the true meanings of many Maori place names in the Auckland region have been lost. Any English translation must be undertaken with care, taking into account the likely context in which the name may have been given in the first instance. This requires a close study of Maori history, language and culture.

The following glossary taken from a number of sources is very much a preliminary attempt and Civic Trust Auckland would be grateful to receive corrections and additional data, from knowledgeable sources.

Ahi Fire
Ahu To heap up
Aka Roots. Akaaka fibrous roots.
Akau Coast
Akeake Native tree
Aki To smash
Ana Cave
Ao Cloud, day
Ara Path, way
Arai Screen, veil
Aria Deep pool
Aro Front, face
Aruhe Fern root
Ata Shadow
Atarau Moon, Moonlight
Atea Space
Au Whirlpool, swirling current. See also ripo
Awa Stream, river
Awaawa Valley
Eke Run aground, Crouch
Ha Breath
Haka Dance, usually a formalised war dance
Hapua A hollow or pool
Hapuku Fish, Groper
Hau Wind, there are many other meanings
Hei Necklace
Here Knot, tie
Hihi Stitch bird
Hiku Fish's tail
Hinahina Native tree
Hinau Native tree
Hinu Oil
Hiwi Ridge
Hoe Paddle
Hoki Return
Homai Give
Honi Nibble, eat
Horo Swallow, run, crumbling, landslip
Horopito Native shrub
Hoteo Calabash
Hou Feather
Houhou Native tree (five finger)
Hu Secret
Hua Fruit, offspring
Huhu Native grub
Hui Assembly
Huia Native Bird (now extinct)
Huka Foam, snow
Hunua High country, infertile
Huri Turn around, revolve, circle
Huru Hair
Ihenga Proper name. Nephew of Kahu-mata-moemoe
Ihu Nose
Ika Fish
Iti Small
Iwi Bone, tribe
Kaha Net
Kahikatea Native Tree
Kahiwi Ridge
Kahu Blue, garment
Kahu Shortened version of Kahu-mata-moemoe, son of Tama-te-Kapua
Kai Food
Kainga Village
Kaka Parrott
Kamokamo Winking
Kapakapa Flapping
Kapua Cloud
Karai Sea bird
Karaka Native tree
Kau Swim
Kawa Shrub
Kawau Shag, cormorant
Kete Basket
Kiekie Native vine
Kino Bad
Kiore Native rat
Kiwa Male name, one of the gods of the ocean
Kiwi Native bird
Koau Shag
Kohe Tree, climbing plant
Kohi Point, headland
Kohu Mist
Kopua Pit, deep pool
Kotuku Heron
Koura Crayfish
Kowhai Native tree
Kura Red
Kuri Maori dog
Ma Stream
Mahoe Native tree
Mai Mussel
Mairangi Proper name
Maku Wet
Mana Authority, prestige
Manawa Heart
Manu Bird, Kite
Manuka Native shrub/tree
Mara Cultivation
Marae Courtyard, open meeting area
Marama Month, Moon, collect together, assemble, light
Marua Valley
Mata Quartz, flint, rock
Matai Native tree, sea
Matua Parent, ancestor, full-grown
Matuku Bittern
Maunga Large hill, often translated as Mountain
Moa Native bird (now extinct)
Moana Ocean
Moe Sleep
Moku Lizard, tattoo, ancestry
Motu Island, clump of trees
Muri Breeze
Nga The
Nui Big, long, large, many
O Place of, belonging to
One Sand, beach
Paepae Ridge
Pai Good
Papa Flat, land
Para Fern root, root used for food
Pataka Raised storehouse
Patiki Flounder
Pawa Proper name
Pipi A type of shellfish
Pito End
Po Night
Ponga Tree fern
Poto Short
Puke Hill
Puni Blocked
Pupu Shellfish (no specific kind)
Raki North
Rangi Sky
Rata Native tree
Rau Many (sometimes translated as 100)
Rere Flying
Rewa Flying, floating
Riki Few
Rima Five
Rimu Native tree
Roa Long
Rongo Sound
Roto Lake
Ru Shake
Rua Pit, cave, two
Ruru Morepork, a native owl
Taha To pass by
Tahi One, single
Tahuhu Ridge pole
Tahuna Shoal, sand bank
Tai Tide, coast
Taia Neap tide
Tane Man, men
Tangi Weep
Taniwha Water monster
Tapu Sacred
Tara Point, peak spearhead
Tarakihi Type of fish, which has spines
Taramea Spear grass
Tarewa Trailing vines
Tauru Head of stream
Tawa Native tree
Tea White, bright
Tere Swift, swift flowing
Ti Cabbage tree
Tika Straight
Tiki Sacred, carved figurine
Tini Many, multitude
Tio Very cold
Titi Mutton bird
Tiu Swift
Toetoe Pampas type grass
Toke Worm
Torea Wading bird, oyster catcher
Toro Explore, discover
Toto Blood
Tui Sea
Tuna Eel
Turu Post
Uku Mud, clay
Umu Oven
Wai Water
Waka Canoe
Wera Hot, burnt
Whau Native tree
Whata Food store
Whenua Land, place, country