Whanganui Māori pronounce ‘wh’ as a soft ‘w’ – unlike other tribes, who pronounce it as ‘f’. Europeans wrote what they heard, so Wanganui became the established spelling for the river and the town. The spelling of the river’s name was changed to Whanganui in 1991, but in referenda in 2006 and 2009 voters overwhelmingly chose to keep the city’s name without an ‘h’. In 2008 local hapū Ngāti Tūpoho submitted a further application to the Geographic Board to have the spelling changed to Whanganui. In December 2009 Minister for Land Information Maurice Williamson ruled that both spellings would be official.
This 2006 video canvasses the views of local residents on the possible change in spelling.
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