New Zealand’s Māori Party has launched a campaign to officially change the island nation’s name to Aotearoa -- the name used in the Te Reo Māori language.Aotearoa means ‘land of the long white cloud’ in Te Reo Māori language.About the campaignApart from changing the name of the country, the Māori Party, which represents the indigenous people of New Zealand, has also petitioned the House of Representatives to restore the Māori names for all its towns, cities and places.“It's well past time that Te Reo Māori was restored to its rightful place as the first and official language of this country. We are a Polynesian country -- we are Aotearoa,” a statement from the Te Pāti Māori leaders, Rawiri Waititi and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, said.The petition has asked the parliament to change the names by 2026."Tangata whenua are sick to death of our ancestral names being mangled, bastardised, and ignored. It's the 21st Century, this must change," the petition read.In Māori language, Tangata whenua means ‘people of the land.’ It is generally used to refer to all Māori people.Support for the campaignWithin three days of the launch, the petition has received 50,000 signatures, Te Reo Māori’s Twitter account showed.“Aotearoa is a name that will unify our country rather than divide it,” Waititi told The Guardian. “Others are trying to use it is a divisive tool, but this is an inclusive tool, where our ancestors consented to us all living on this whenua [land] together.”What the petition saysThe Te Pāti Māori has said that only 3 percent of the people living in the country can speak the language. Fluency in the native tongue dropped from 90 percent in 1910 to 26 percent in 1950.“In only 40 years, the Crown managed to successfully strip us of our language and we are still feeling the impacts of this today,” the party said.“In 1972, there was a petition of about 30,000 delivered to the Parliament. The petition was about recognising Te Reo Māori as the official language that included all aspects of Te Reo Māori,” Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told ABC News. “This is about restoring the cultural antiquity,” she added.Government responseMany New Zealanders, including political leaders and state officials, often use the name Aotearoa interchangeably with New Zealand.“I hear more and more often the use of Aotearoa interchangeably with New Zealand and that is a positive thing,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had said last year.“Whether or not we change it in law I don’t think it changes the fact New Zealanders do increasingly refer to Aotearoa, and I think that’s a transition that has been welcomed,” she had said.Kiwi oppositionThe plea has sparked a controversy among the Kiwis.“People are already free to use Māori placenames. What the Māori Party is saying is it would like to ban people calling our country New Zealand. It should focus on real issues like the 1.6 million people in Tāmaki Makaurau in lockdown,” ACT party leader David Seymour tweeted.On August 4, national party leader Judith Collins called for a referendum on the use of the name Aotearoa.“People are starting to get, I think, quite tetchy about that, they’re feeling like they’re not being included in that debate,” she had told the media.Meanwhile, national MP Stuart Smith has called for a crackdown on state officials using the word Aotearoa.History of the name, AotearoaThe history of the island nation dates back to the 14th century when Polynesians settled there. The indigenous people of New Zealand believe the name Aotearoa was given by East Polynesian explorer Kupe, a name that is popular in Maori tales.Legend has it that the first person to have sighted the land was Kupe’s wife Kuramarotini when they were sailing to see what lay beyond the horizon. Spotting a cloud in a distance, Kuramarotini shouted “He ao! He ao!” which meant ‘a cloud.’ When the canoe came closer to the land, people shouted with glee “Aotea! Aotea!” meaning the ‘white cloud.’Another legend says Kupe’s daughter spotted the land. Others believe the country is named after the canoe Kupe was riding.In 1640s, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted a part of the island and named it after the Dutch province of Zeeland. Old Dutch maps often have the country named as ‘Nieuw Zeeland.’ English navigator James Cook later mentions the country, ‘New Zeland’ in his maps.ControversyThe government put Aotearoa on passports in 2011, while the Reserve Bank put the term on bank notes in 2015. But many people still believe the term refers to the north island only and not the whole country.“Aotearoa does feature in documents as early as 1855, in Maori language newspapers like the Maori Messenger and Governor Grey’s manuscripts. But historians have yet to find earlier official references. The critics of a name change seize on this evidence to back their opposition, turning progressive talking points on their head, in arguing that it is inappropriate to take a white man’s history to justify a Maori name change,” senior lecturer Morgan Godfery from the University of Otago wrote in The Guardian.