The story about traditional chiefs wanting to change the name for a new Maori one that will reflect its Polynesian heritage has already been picked up by top international media such as The New York Times, BBC, CNN and The Guardian.
These media companies have millions of followers and the exposure it’s given to the small nation could not be bought by the deepest tourism-marketing pockets.
The New York Times, an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership, ran the story under the headline “Cook Islands Considers Dropping Its Colonial Name: ‘Now We Can Have a Name We Choose’”.
American news-based pay TV channel, CNN in a story titled “The Cook Islands is looking for a new, less colonial name” said “supporters of a name change in the Cook Islands will hope for greater success than New Zealand’s most recent push to discard part of its colonial legacy”.
Meanwhile, the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation is mum about the “free” publicity the destination has received from the name change plan, but says it will follow government policy on the matter.
Corporation chief executive officer Halatoa Fua said a communications strategy would need to be part of the planning process for the proposed idea.
“I presume a name change will require extensive stakeholder consultation, economic impact assessment and approval from Cabinet and Parliament,” Fua said.
When asked about how the name change, if successful, would affect the “Cook Islands” brand the corporation has built on over the years, Fua said “The Cook Islands is promoted by the island names in New Zealand as a matured market, for example Rarotonga, Aitutaki, and Atiu.
“Outside of New Zealand, there would be changes depending what form the name change will be decided by the Naming Advisory Committee, for example both Maori and English name, and length of transitionary period.”
Fua also said the total cost of rebranding, if a new name is successfully chosen, “will be part of the communications strategy which needs to be thoroughly assessed and costed”.
Meanwhile an assistant professor of postcolonial geographies at Concordia University, Montreal, suggested renaming the Cook Islands would be a vital step towards its true independence.
Nalini Mohabir in her opinion column in the British daily newspaper The Guardian said the Cook Islands comprise 15 Polynesian islands, each with their own pre-colonial names and histories and complicated dynamics in the present.
“Independence does not need to be a grandiose process of disconnection and severing ties. A new place name for the Cook Islands (such Avaiki Nui, a local term and a frequently suggested new name) offers the possibility to reclaim ancestral legacies and envision new futures – futures that do not belong to the limited choices laid out by colonialism that foreclose true independence, but a more hopeful map for the next generation that opens up the spirit of liberation,” Mohabir stated.
This is not the country’s first attempt at changing its name. A referendum for a new name in 1994 was defeated by the voters.