New Zealand : Ny Zjaelland?
The New Land of Seals


Was our land named after seals?

According to accepted opinion, New Zealand was named after the Dutch region of Zeeland - the land from the sea (zee being Dutch for sea). It seems no-one can confirm why Abel Tasman named the country so.

Our land was not the only place to be called New Zealand. At one time there were two places so named; one a peninsula on the southern coast of what is now West Irian, and the current New Zealand. The connection to Zeeland was made because of the visit to these shores of the Dutch navigator, Captain Abel Tasman.

Recent comment on another web-site has suggested this is wrong. Zeeland is a low lying area of land and has very little in common with New Zealand, which is very mountainous. This has always been a puzzling association, hard to reconcile as being at all credible, yet that is what we were taught at school. Possibly had we all been brought up on Golden Bay (Murderers Bay as Tasman called it), where the sea is shallow, a link with zeeland may have been possible to visualise. But what about the snow capped Tasman mountains immediately behind the narrow plain on which the towns of Takaka and Collingwood stand? Zeeland has no such backdrop. So does the concept of an association with "seal land" have real worth?

The Danish Island of Zealand (Zjaelland) may have a more credible link. It was suggested that originally the island of Zealand in Danmark (Denmark) owed it's name to seals. The claim is, in ancient times Zealand (ie Zjaelland) meant the land of seals.

Associating New Zealand (Ny Zjaelland) with seals may be much more appropriate than with Zeeland - the land from the sea. Most early European 19th century contact was in the pursuit of whales and millions of seals, and this was so even in the late 1700's. It is quite possible that, Tasman being a sailor from the North Sea, would have known and even sailed the sea ways between the North Sea and the Baltic sea. He would possibly have known the name and reason for the name of the Danish Island on which Copenhagen is situated, whether or not seals lived there in his day. Neuw Zeeland (Ny Zjaelland) may well have originated from an association with a NEW land of seals.

The New Zealand fur seals were decimated in the 1800's and early 1900's. They were eventually eliminated from the main Islands of New Zealand and became restricted to remote offshore islands far to the south. Today the fur seal has made a considerable come back and are proving somewhat troublesome to the NZ fishing fleet. Fur seals are re-establishing colonies all around the mainland coasts. The modern interest in the seal colonies is from tourists rather than seal hunters. But don't stand down wind - the smell is atrocious. Also don't get too close as the bull seals are always dangerous, moreso in the mating season. So too are female seals when protecting their young pups.

Should the national animal of New Zealand be a Seal?

Subconciously many New Zealanders find it hard to reconcile the name of the this country to a flat low lying land largely recovered from the sea by using dykes. Our New Zealand is a very mountainous and rugged country for the most part. The Maori name for this country, Aotearoa (meaning the Land of the Long White Cloud) is perceived by some folk, as likely to replace the name New Zealand for ethnic reasons and the incongruity of the link to Zeeland. However it does need to be stated that the name New Zealand when associated with seals has just as much relevance to our country as an association with clouds. To those readers who don't know why the country should be associated with clouds, it should be explained that when approached from the west over the Tasman sea, whether by air or sea, the presence of our land is usually indicated by a long bank of white clouds.

As picturesque as clouds are, they have very little substance. Now seals, they're something different and substantial. They're also nautical and as New Zealanders we have a very strong nautical tradition. There is no legitimate reason for any New Zealander to want to change the name of the country. Some modern ethnic racists or even bureaucrats may think there is, but seals are probably more legitimately New Zealanders than are any humans. Probably seals wouldn't mind if there were two versions of the name "new seal land". "New Zealand" and whatever some bureacrat could translate this into using the Maori language! Probably most of us will be quite content to continue using New Zealand, whatever the name association is.

For some details about the New Zealand fur seal click on this link: Zjael. (

Copyright 2002


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