New Zealand on Thursday moved to correct a clerical oversight lasting 200 years that meant its two main islands were never officially named.

Universally known as the North and South Islands, the landmasses had never been formally recognised despite appearing on maps since European settlement began in the early 1800s, the New Zealand Geographic Board said.

After discovering the error in 2009, the board began a long public consultation process looking at how to rectify the mistake, resulting in an announcement from Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson on Thursday.

"As an integral part of New Zealand’s cultural identity and heritage, it is only right the names North Island and South Island be made official," he said in a statement.

Williamson also approved alternative Maori names for the islands: Te Waipounamu -- meaning rivers of green stone -- for the South Island and Te Ika-a-Maui -- the fish of Maui (a Maori god) -- for the North.

"These Maori names also have historic and cultural significance and appeared on early maps and charts, including government maps, until the 1950s," he said.

Both the English and Maori names can be used on official documents and maps.

Other names used in the early days of British and Irish settlement, which were not officially recognised, were New Ulster or Aeheinomouwe (North) and New Munster or Touypoenammu (South).

 

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