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Your Guide to Baby Names in Aotearoa New Zealand

Updated: Apr 4

Join us as we explore current baby name trends, focusing on Māori names and the rise of gender-neutral names in Aotearoa New Zealand. This article includes practical guidance on selecting a name and lists of trending names for 2023.


Baby Names in 2023 in Aotearoa New Zealand — Complied By Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer

Introduction: What will we cover in this blog?

If you are short on time, you can skip to the sections you are most interested in:


Trending Names for Boys + Girls


Choosing a name for their newest whānau member is one of the most exciting and important decisions any new parent will make. A name carries deep meaning and significance, reflecting both personal preferences and the cultural shifts of our time.

In this blog post, we will explore naming trends in 2023, look at the increasingly popular choice to select a traditional Māori name, and the continuing popularity of making a gender-neutral name choice.

An increasing number of parents are choosing Māori names for their whānau, recognising their deep connection to the land and the unique stories they tell. These names often encapsulate the beauty of nature, the strength of ancestors, and the spirit of Aotearoa New Zealand. We will also touch on key considerations when selecting a Māori baby name and, importantly, discuss where it may be less appropriate.

Alongside the revival of Māori names, another trend in Aotearoa New Zealand is the rise of gender-neutral names. In a world that is trying to embrace inclusivity and diversity, and recognising that more mahi remains to be done, many parents are moving away from names with traditional gender associations. We will explore this shift in naming conventions and bring you a list of gender-neutral names that are gaining popularity.

Whether you're a new parent seeking inspiration for your upcoming arrival or an avid name enthusiast captivated by the ever-changing landscape of baby names, this blog post is tailored just for you. So, grab a cuppa and dive into the world of baby names in 2023.



The Naming Landscape in 2023: New Trends Balanced with Tradition

The world of baby names is a fascinating realm that constantly evolves, reflecting the ever-changing cultural landscape and shifting societal values. This is reflected in Aotearoa New Zealand, a nation with an increasingly diverse population and a rich cultural heritage. Each year brings forth a wave of fresh and captivating options as parents search for meaningful, unique names that reflect their own personal style and values. You will also find some ever-popular choices that seem to have immense staying power and consistently appear in lists of trending names year after year.

Popularity in baby names can be a curious phenomenon. Previously beloved choices can gradually fade into the background, replaced by new and exciting options. Names considered rare or unusual in the past can suddenly gain popularity and become more mainstream. Many factors influence these fluctuations, including cultural shifts, popular culture references, and the desire for individuality.

In the current baby naming landscape of Aotearoa New Zealand, we find a lovely blend of tradition and innovation. While classic names remain popular, a wave of contemporary choices is making its mark. Parents are increasingly drawn to names that celebrate Māori culture, infusing their children's identities with the depth and beauty of Aotearoa New Zealand. Breaking away from traditional gender norms, many parents are opting for names that transcend societal expectations and promote inclusivity. This reflects a society that increasingly values diversity and empowers individuals to express their true selves.



The Power of Personal Expression: Choosing the Perfect Name

Selecting a name for your child is an incredible opportunity for personal expression. It's a chance to imbue their identity with your values, celebrate your cultural heritage, and create a name that resonates with your family's unique story.

Before you begin, it's important to consider your personal values. Reflect on the qualities you wish to instil in your little one and the message you want their name to convey. Let these values guide your selection, whether it's strength, kindness, resilience, or creativity.

Celebrating your cultural heritage is another powerful opportunity when choosing a name. Aotearoa New Zealand has many diverse cultures, each bringing a rich tapestry of traditions and names. Embrace your heritage and explore the enchanting world of names rooted in your cultural background.


For those with Māori ancestry, you may like to delve into the treasure trove of Māori names, many of which carry a profound connection to the land, nature, and ancestral wisdom.


Some families choose to look backwards and select a name with family significance. We used this tradition for both of our sons; favouring names that recognise and celebrate their grandparents and great-grandparents.

While tradition and heritage are important, don't be afraid to embrace a touch of innovation and creativity. Unleash your imagination and consider unique combinations, contemporary twists on classic names, or inventing entirely new names. The key is to find that perfect balance between tradition and personal flair.



The Rising Popularity of Māori Names

In Aotearoa New Zealand, there has been a surge in the popularity of Māori names. These names, deeply rooted in the country's indigenous culture, are now resonating with more and more parents nationwide. The embracing of Māori names reflects a shift in naming conventions and signifies a celebration of the country's cultural diversity.


Māori names contribute to the tapestry of Aotearoa New Zealand's cultural landscape, weaving together the threads of heritage and modernity. By choosing a Māori name for their child, parents pay homage to the traditions and values of their ancestors, acknowledging the deep-rooted connection to the land and the ancestral wisdom passed down through generations. It is a way of honouring the cultural richness that defines Aotearoa New Zealand.

One of the striking aspects of Māori names is their unique phonetics and the melodic flow they possess. These names often carry a rhythm that dances off the tongue, delighting both the speaker and the listener. From the soft vowels to the harmonious combinations of sounds, Māori Names have a musical quality that sets them apart.

But it is not just the phonetics that make Māori names captivating; their meanings are equally profound. Each name is imbued with rich symbolism, often drawing inspiration from the natural world, celestial bodies, or significant historical events. Māori names evoke a sense of purpose and connection to the world around us.


Considerations for Pākehā parents who would like to choose a Māori Name:

Many Pākehā parents wonder if it is appropriate to choose a Māori name for their child if they have no Māori ancestry. According to Tāwhirimātea Williams, who has been teaching te reo Māori for decades, "if a Pākehā does that (give their child a Māori name), then it shows that they have affection and respect for the Māori people. But if Pākehā want to give their children Māori names, then they must know the history and the meaning of those names."

Williams recommends caution in choosing a Māori name, but also points towards ex-Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern and fiancé Clark Gayford as an example of the way Pākehā can appropriately embrace Māori baby names. "The prime minister gave her baby the name Aroha. She knows the meaning of that word, she is fond of that word, and perhaps also has affections for the Māori world. She has shown us that she not only has affection for the Pākehā world but ours as well, hence her giving her baby that name. How can you argue with that?" says Williams.


The Department of Internal Affairs has been criticised for publishing misleading lists of Māori names. They stated that their lists were compiled following advice around names that phonetically could be Māori but include options that have been strongly disputed as non-Māori. These resources are still available online, so parents should be aware of concerns about the validity of the lists provided.


In addition to treating lists of names cautiously, Māori cultural adviser Karaitiana Taiuru recommends a similar approach to online resources around the meanings of Māori names. While well-intentioned, many resources fail to understand the depth of Māori meanings and often misattribute meanings because of their similarity with names of international origins.


When choosing a name, it is recommended you take advice from your whānau and local experts to learn the origins and meaning of the names you are considering.


As these names gain popularity, they serve as a testament to Aotearoa New Zealand's commitment to cultural inclusivity and appreciation. They bridge the gap between different communities, fostering a sense of unity and respect for diverse cultural heritages. Embracing Māori names is a beautiful way for families to connect with their ancestry and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for the cultural fabric that shapes our way of life.


Newborn baby boy photographed with his family Korowai by  Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer
Photo: Kirsten Naomi Photography

You can read more about photographing your baby with their Korowai in our blog post HERE



Embracing Gender-Neutral Names: Promoting Equality and Self-Expression

Gender-neutral names are considered a powerful tool in challenging societal norms and fostering a sense of equality. By choosing a name that transcends traditional gender boundaries, parents are sending a clear message: their child's identity is not confined by predetermined roles or expectations. Instead, they encourage their child to express their individuality without limitations.


The beauty of gender-neutral names lies in their versatility and fluidity. These names have the power to adapt to any gender, allowing individuals the freedom to express themselves authentically. They open doors for self-discovery, enabling children to explore their interests, talents, and passions without feeling confined by societal expectations.


It is hoped that embracing gender-neutral names will have a raft of benefits. They may help to foster a generation of individuals who feel seen, valued, free to express their true selves, are unafraid to challenge norms, and embrace diversity.

Gender-neutral names provide the promise of a society where every child has the opportunity to thrive. They promote an environment where individuals are valued for who they are rather than being defined by gender stereotypes. In a world that increasingly recognises the spectrum of gender identities, these names serve as a stepping-stone towards a more inclusive society.


We've compiled the top 30 Gender-Neutral Names registered in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022. The name needed to appear more than ten times in the girls' and boys' registers to make the list. Names coded with a yellow heart were equally likely to be registered as a girl or a boy. Names coded with green hearts appeared more than ten times in both registers but were more likely to be registered as boys. Likewise, names coded with a turquoise heart appeared more than ten times in both registers but were more likely to be registered as girls.

Top 30 Gender-Neutral Names registered in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022
Top 30 Gender-Neutral Names registered in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022 — Complied By Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer

You can view the list of all names that appeared in the register more than ten times for every year since 2011 HERE. Read on for our summary of the top 30 Girls' and top 30 Boys' names.


Newborn baby photographed by  Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer
Photo: Kirsten Naomi Photography


As you navigate the sea of possibilities, here are a few practical tips to guide you on your quest for the perfect name:
  1. Research and Explore: Immerse yourself in the world of baby names. Dive into books, websites, and forums that offer insights into various cultures and naming trends. Seek inspiration from literature, mythology, or even meaningful words from different languages.

  2. Whānau Connections: Delve into your whānau history and explore the names of your ancestors. Pay homage to your roots by incorporating whānau names or finding variations honouring your whakapapa. This is not limited to Māori whānau. The people of Aotearoa New Zealand come from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds, all of which have beautiful traditions that contribute to our diverse culture and deserve to be celebrated.

  3. Meaning and Significance: Consider names that resonate with your values, beliefs, or experiences. Remember, a name carries a lifelong impact, so choose one to uplift and inspire your child. When selecting names with cultural significance seek advice from experts within your community to ensure you are accessing accurate information on the origins and meanings of the names you are considering.

  4. Test Run: Imagine calling out the name in different scenarios. Consider how the name may evolve as your child grows, from playful nicknames to professional settings.

It is also worth noting that a name has to be approved by the Registrar-General before it becomes legal, and names can be declined. In 2022 the most declined names included King (9 declines and topping the list for the 14th year in a row), Saint (8 declines), Royal (7 declines), Messiah (4 declines), Princess (4 declines), Prince (3 declines), Sovereign (3 declines) and Sire (2 declines). You can find the complete list of declined names HERE.


"There are guidelines in place to ensure that names don't cause offence, are a reasonable length and don't represent an official title or rank," said Jeff Montgomery, Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages.


Here are some tips for ensuring your baby's name meets the criteria:

  • avoid official titles, using numeric characters or symbols, like a backslash or a punctuation mark

  • avoid swear words

  • limit the name to no more than 70 characters

Selecting the right name for your child is a meaningful way to show affection and personal expression. It's a chance to give a nod to your whānau history and to embrace the culture of your ancestors. It pays to keep some practicalities in mind as you dive into this exciting task. So research and test the names that make your shortlist to ensure you haven't missed anything important.


We've compiled the top 30 Girls' and top 30 Boys' names in 2022. These are the most popular names chosen by parents, and each was registered by more than 100 families from around Aotearoa New Zealand.

Top 30 Girls' Names registered in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022 — Complied By Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer
Top 30 Girls' Names registered in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022 — Complied By Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer

Newborn baby girl photographed by  Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer
Photo: Kirsten Naomi Photography

Top 30 Boys' Names registered in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022 — Complied By Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer
Top 30 Boys' Names registered in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2022 — Complied By Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer

Newborn baby boy photographed by  Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer
Photo: Kirsten Naomi Photography

You can view the list of all names that appeared in the register more than ten times for every year since 2011 HERE.



Final Thoughts

Choosing a name for your new whānau member is an important responsibility. A name carries huge significance as it becomes an inseparable part of one's identity, reflecting personal preferences, cultural heritage, and whānau values.

In this blog, we have discussed baby naming trends in 2023, focusing on the resurgence of beautiful Māori names and evolving trends towards gender-neutral names in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Māori names, rooted in our culture and traditions, often encompass the beauty of nature, ancestral strength, and the essence of the nation. These names, with their unique phonetics and meanings, establish a profound connection to the land and history of Aotearoa New Zealand. On the other side of the spectrum, the rise of gender-neutral names demonstrates the progressive shifts towards greater inclusivity and diversity in our society.

As you approach the task of naming, it is a good idea to research and consider several factors, such as historical and cultural significance, pronunciation, spelling, and whānau connections.


Imagine the long-term implications of the name you choose, how it sounds in different settings, and how it may evolve as the child transitions through life stages. This includes considering potential nicknames and professional associations.

While being well-informed and thoughtful in your choice is important, do not overlook the importance of personal sentiment and intuition. A name is not just a label but a gift that will last a lifetime.


Whether you are about to become a parent or grandparent or are fascinated by the cultural and societal aspects of names, we hope this blog serves as both a practical guide and a source of inspiration.


Toddler and Newborn baby with their family, as photographed by  Kirsten Naomi Photography, Christchurch Based Newborn + Maternity Photographer
Photo: Kirsten Naomi Photography


At Kirsten Naomi Photography we believe that you deserve beautiful photos of yourself and your family. Let's chat about what you love and how we can create it for you.


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