Place names of Nelson


When we stroll around the streets of Nelson, it is difficult to imagine what they would have been like 160 years ago.  The worn down tracks which have developed into streets are what the first settlers of Nelson would have walked on when they stepped onto land.  These steps have shaped our city, and where they walked will always be preserved through the naming of our culturally diverse pathways.

Nelson's Early Settlers

The first English settlers of Nelson arrived on the Fifeshire on February 1 1842. They came under the New Zealand Company Scheme, led by Captain Arthur Wakefield. The economic conditions in many European nations meant that many people were looking for a new start. With the arrival of the Fifeshire, the new emigrants began to settle into their new land and, with the continual stream of immigrant boats, Nelson's population steadily grew.

Frederick TuckettFrederick Tuckett  (1807-1876) Chief Surveyor of Nelson who made the first survey map of Nelson. The Nelson Provincial Museum, OP 295095
Click to enlarge

The settlement was based around Church Hill, where the Nelson Cathedral now stands, and by March 1842 there was interest being taken in the possible names of the streets for the town.  A committee led by Captain Wakefield was formed and they had three main meetings in March and April to decide on the names, which were duly reported to the inhabitants of the town in the Nelson Examiner. It was recorded that "the principle of choosing names with a view to paying compliments to individuals ought to be repudiated"1 and also that they would "...choose names to commemorate the career of Nelson".2 Both of these motions were carried, as the majority of the names chosen reflect England's greatest seaman, Lord Nelson, and his colleagues. Names such as Nile Street, Hardy Street and St Vincent Street also all reflect the influential Lord. As well as being recorded in the Nelson Examiner, the names were shown on the first survey map of Nelson made by Frederick Tuckett in April 1842, who divided the Nelson settlement into one acre plots.

Naming a new street in Nelson now differs from the original process. A hearings panel made up of Nelson City Councillors receives suggestions from developers or interested parties. The suggestions must comply with specific terms, which are set by the Nelson City Council, such as not being named after any living person.

The majority of these names have been preserved and when you look at today's inner city streets this becomes evident.  Take Nelson's main thoroughfare, Trafalgar Street, which was named after Lord Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Every Nelsonian knows the street and it has become an icon for the region.  However, not all of the names that were chosen have been retained to the present. One of these is Copenhagen Mount, which was a controversial name at the time. It was recorded in the Examiner, that the Street Committee decided that "no names be selected which will serve to perpetuate the recollection of Copenhagen".3 This was due to the Battle of Copenhagen, as some felt it was an unpleasant memory of a battle with a country which Britain was not technically at war with.4 However this was disregarded at the time, and after a vote was carried out it was decided to call Reserve D, the site for the Barracks and parade ground, Copenhagen Mount. The name fell into disuse and eventually became the Trafalgar Street Cemetery. It was renamed Fairfield Park in 1963 under the recommendation of the Nelson Historical Society, because of its near proximity to Fairfield House.5

When we look at Nelson street and place names, it is noticeable that they reflect different cultural groups that have influenced Nelson's growth. There are names that are English, such as Wakefield, and Scottish, such as Glenduan. There are Māori names, such as Emano, and Italian, such as Di Pierri. There are German names, such as Ranzau, and even Canadian, like Quebec, that have all played an important part in shaping Nelson's identity. The city has grown into a diverse community, all be it small.

Italian Street Names

These are situated in the Wood area, with some being scattered around the Maitai Valley.  They reflect the family heritage of the Italians who owned land in the Wood, mainly for commercial tomato growing.  The first Italian to be regarded as Nelsons first tomato grower is Giacomo Persico who came in 1904. After this many came out from Potenza and with the help of local musicians, the Vitetta Brothers, many were given a helping hand until they had enough money to lease their own land.

Italian tomato growersItalian tomato growers  in the Wood,  The Nelson Provincial Museum, Geoffrey C. Wood Collection, L9540 fr2
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When talking to Josephine Persico, she tells of the hardship that many Italians faced, especially through World War II when Italians were declared enemy citizens.6 Josephine's father, Michelangelo Lauria, came out from Potenza, Italy in 1926, and she and her mother, Carmela, followed a year later. Michelangelo bought 199 Nile St in 1928 and started growing tomatoes and vegetables commercially. With seven children helping out, the business thrived and it was continued by Michelangelo's only son until 1999. After this the land was sold and named Lauria Way, in honour of Michelangelo Lauria.7

Some of the Italian place names in the Wood [Wises map]
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The majority of the Italians' streets have been named after influential Italian families, such as Monopoli, Esposito, Persico, Romano and De Pierri but some are also dedicated to family members. One such is Rosa Cristina Way, named by the Pessione family. The Pessiones used the property for market gardening, and named their street after their daughter who tragically died at the age of nine.

German Place Names

Another name that reflects Nelson's diversity is that of Ranzau, as it shows Nelson's German influence. The group of Germans that founded Ranzau arrived on the Skiold in 1844, and were the second group of Germans to arrive in Nelson.   A wealthy German nobleman, Count Kuno zu Rantzau-Breitenburg, paid for the passages of the majority of the families that came out, as he had dreamed of creating a German colony at Nelson. One of the agents, Fedor Kelling, who came out with the  German immigrants consequently named his  homestead "Ranzau" in honour of the Count.8 The whole district of Waimea East became known as Ranzau until it was renamed in 1914, due to the hate of Germany during the Great War.   It was renamed Hope, after Jane Hope who was also an early settler. However, there are still reminders of the previous name, which can be seen in Ranzau Road and Ranzau School.

Scottish Place Names

Immigrants from Scotland also have street and place names that reflect their origins.  Consider Glenduan, which is situated north of Nelson city. The name originated from James McKay naming his property ‘Drumduan' after his Scottish Home. He also named the valley on his property Glenduan, which is now known as The Glen to Nelsonians. In 1904 it was advertised that sections were for sale at The Glen to create "the future resort of Nelson and Wellington"9, but nothing substantial ever developed.   There is also Scotland Street in Nelson City, which was named after the Scottish families that lived in the region, as the area was once known as Little Scotland.

Māori Street Names

Along with these diverse groups we also have a number of Māori names that refer to their heritage. There are names that reflect historical chiefs and even local heroines.  For example there is Emano Street, which was originally named by the 1842 Street Naming Committee at their second meeting. In The Examiner and on Frederick Tuckett's map, the spelling was shown as Emanu, but over the years the spelling has changed to Emano. Emanu Street was named after the word Manu, which means a person of high esteem, or leader, in Māori.  Another Māori name is that of Huria Street in Stoke. Named in 1993, it commemorates Hūria Matenga, who in 1863 assisted the crew of the Delaware to safety.10 After this incident, the name of the bay developed into becoming Delaware Bay, which has remained to this day.

The next time that you walk around Nelson streets, consider the heritage that they hold.  Think of the early settlers,  the naming of the streets , the events that they have experienced and the secrets that they still hold.

Megan Hansen, Nelson College for Girls, 2011. Updated May 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. At a Meeting of the Street Committee (26 March 1842) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, Volume I, p.9
  2. At a Meeting of the Street Committee
  3. At a Meeting of the Street Committee
  4. Fairfield Park History Board
  5. Fairfield Park History Board
  6. Persico, J.(27 May 2010) personal communication.
  7. Persico, J.(27 May 2010) personal communication.
  8. Imogen McCarthy. Nelson Provincial Museum
  9. Wastney, P.V and N.L. (1982), Roads of Yesterday. Nelson, NZ : Author
  10. Nelson City Council Street Index

Want to find out more about the Place names of Nelson ? View Further Sources here.

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  • The Hope region wasn’t given the name in ww1, Hope school was named and opened in 1852. Jane Hope arrived in NZ in 1853 and she didn’t own land or live in Hope, nor did her sons. So the mystery still remains, why Hope?
    -Ed. unfortunately we haven't been able to find any reliable primary evidence that explains why the school and later the surrounding area was named Hope. The name Hope was in use for parts of Waimea East prior to WW1. It is mentioned as the place of residence for a number of voters in the Waimea Electoral rolls from the late 1860s on, as is Ranzau.

    Posted by Darcy, 18/04/2020 2:40pm (4 years ago)

  • Was there really an early settler "Lady Jane Hope"? - see section on German place names. I have been able to find references to a settler named "Jane Hope" - Mrs. Hope that is. I'm curious because I'm about to move to Hope.
    Ed. Thank you for the comment to The Prow on the student story “Street names of Nelson” asking about Lady Jane Hope.
    Following on from your query we have been unable to verify that Jane Hope was a Lady and the story has been amended.
    Searching the website on the Nelson region newspapers produced some interesting material on Jane Hope.
    The story itself has been renamed “Place names of Nelson”.

    Posted by Simon Crase, ()

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Further sources - Place names of Nelson




  • Nelson City Council Road Naming Policy Draft. June 2010
  • Nelson City Council:  Nelson Street Name Index (document reference 781719): available to view at Nelson Public Libraries/ Nelson City Council.
  • Nelson Settlement 1842 Map, Isel Park Records
  • Street Name History Project (1) 2004-2005. Isel Park Library Records. Subject File (S)-Street Names
  • Street Name History Project (1) 2004-2005. Isel Park Library Records. Subject File (S)-Street Names
  • Tasman District Council Street Index

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