Maori words for body parts

In our seminars on child protection we advocate using the accurate words — and not nicknames – for children’s ano-genital areas. This is to help avoid confusion over what body part children are really talking about and for them to know that it’s OK to talk about any part of their body. Teaching children anatomically correct terms promotes positive body image, self confidence, and parent-child communication; discourages perpetrators; and, in the event of abuse, helps children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process.

Experts say parents should teach accurate words for body parts, whether it’s nose, knee or…vagina. If children have ownership of these words, that is going to be one more piece of power they have, so hopefully it will give them the strength to say, ‘No, this is my body’. Paediatricians have long urged parents to use and to teach their children the correct terms for private parts. Despite evidence of their protective value, these words continue to cause trouble sometimes.

Parents are sometimes surprised when we recommend that their daughters learn the word ‘vulva’ before the word ‘vagina’, just like boys should learn they have a penis before they are taught that they have a urethra. This is because it’s more important to teach a young child about an external body part (the vulva), which she can see, versus the vagina, which is located internally and is therefore not of much interest.

Sometimes when people give different names to children’s genitalia, it somehow connotes a sense of shame, that we can’t call this what it really is because it’s bad. Using the correct names makes communication clearer because children can then tell someone, ‘He put his penis in my vagina.’ More importantly, it communicates that the adults can hear about that part of the body from a child, and that it is not something you have to hide.

Here are some body part names in Maori:

Arero – tongue

Ihu – nose

Kakī – neck

Kauae – chin

Kōpū – womb

Ngā māhunga – hair; also head

Manawa – heart

Niho – teeth

Poho – chest (also uma)

Puku – belly, stomach

Raho – testicles

Ringa – hand, arm

Tenetene (also tara) – vagina

Toto – blood

Tou – anus

Turi – knee (also pona)

Tūtae – excrement

ū – breast (breast-milk is wai-ū)

Upoko – head

Ure – penis

Waewae – foot/feet, leg/legs

You can learn how to pronounce these words at HERE.