In some parts of French Polynesia, 'Maohi' is a raunchy word for touching a woman's private parts. Photo: John Borthwick/Lonely Planet
French Polynesia's president has landed himself in hot water over a suggestion the country take a new name that has "sexy" connotations for some islanders.
Oscar Temaru has been campaigning for a name change in French Polynesia to symbolise increased independence from France, but his suggested alternative has caused ripples among some. Temaru has put forward Maohi Nui, a name that refers to the indigenous people of French Polynesia in the language of the archipelago's most famous island, Tahiti.
But inhabitants of another island group, Marquesas Islands, know Maohi as a raunchy word for touching a woman's sexual parts, the publisher of Tahiti-Pacifique magazine, Alex du Prel, says.
"For Tahitians it is a fine word, but for Marquesans it is very sexual and not really the type of name you want to have to symbolise your country.
"Imagine Australia renaming itself after something around sex. It just wouldn't happen."
French Oceania was renamed French Polynesia in the mid 1960s but debate has raged in recent years over the need to give a new name to signal a move towards independence. Temaru, who leads the pro-independence Tavini Huiraatira party, says his option enhances cultural identity. Opposition leader Edouard Fritch, who supports autonomy from France, has suggested Tahiti Nui as a replacement, an option Mr du Prel says is far more "sensible".
"Everyone in the world knows the word Tahiti. They know what it is and where it is, so any name we pick must include it," he said.
"If we chose a name like Maohi Nui we'll have the world saying what is that? Where is that?"
"That's throwing to the wind billions of dollars of public relations, all on the whim of the president."
The president said he was considering holding a referendum on the topic, but French Polynesia would not be an option.