"Whitireia – the source of effulgent light – an ancient name, revered since time immemorial… It would be a source of learning that would radiate outwards and enlighten the community."
- Puoho Katene, Ngāti Toa kaumātua
Over its three decades, Whitireia has had three official names, and one early placeholder. During the planning phase in the mid 1980s, the institution that would become Whitireia had been provisionally referred to as Porirua Regional Community College. However, at the final community consultation meeting, the name Parumoana was presented to the council. Parumoana is the name used to describe the foreshore and reclaimed land upon which the institution was constructed, and when the doors officially opened in 1986, it was as Parumoana Community College. The name was represented across a variety of promotional material and letterhead in Ringlet, an Art Nouveau typeface designed in 1882 by German-American type designer Hermann Ihlenburg. This was paired with arguably the institution's first logo, a waka within a circle of interwoven koru.
The Parumoana Community College name proved somewhat problematic and as early as the official opening of the institution, council chair Tino Meleisea noted that the words ‘Community College’ were causing some confusion in the wider area, with many thinking that the name referred to an alternative secondary school. Tino Meleisea suggested that a name change may be necessary, but stated that the word ‘Community’ should be retained as a constant reminder of the institution’s special focus. Other councillors, staff and the public agreed that the word ‘college’ had connotations of secondary schools and at a council meeting in April, it was resolved that it be replaced with ‘Polytechnic,’ which it was felt more clearly conveyed the tertiary role. The name change was soon approved by the Minister of Education.
In these early years of the institution there was also discontent with the name Parumoana, which translates in a literal sense as ‘muddy waters.’ The name was said to be creating considerable embarrassment and loss of mana for students, with reports of some of them being asked to remove Parumoana-branded clothing when visiting marae. Before the name Parumoana Community College had been adopted, Ngāti Toa kaumātua Māui Pōmare had originally suggested that the institution take the name of the local maunga, Whitireia, a word meaning 'the source of effulgent light.' This was again proposed three years later in 1988 by another kaumātua, Patariki Te Rei, who felt that it was a geographically broader name that spoke to the polytechnic's regional role. Ngāti Toa kaumātua Puoho Katene and Harata Solomon brought this proposal to the polytechnic council, with Puoho Katene describing Whitireia as an ancient name with local and navigational associations. He noted that it was appropriate for the new polytechnic to carry this name as a "source of learning that would radiate outwards and enlighten the community," noting that "it would be a guide for those who are seeking directions as they steer their course in life."
Early in 1989, the council made a recommendation to the Associate Minister of Education that the name be changed to Whitireia Community Polytechnic – Te Kura Matatini o Whitireia – and this came into effect in September of that year. It was widely felt that the new name more accurately reflected the regional nature of the polytechnic and its aspirations– ‘to lead and illuminate our communities through tertiary education.’
The new name also saw the introduction of what could be described as the classic Whitireia logo, with a koru sitting above two stylised waves. The accompanying type was rendered in the Bold Italic style of ITC Souvenir, Ed Benguiat’s 1970s revival of the 1920s original. Variations of this logo would continue in use until a rebranding in 2004 which saw the koru replaced with a stylised kete, the addition of a tagline reading 'living, learning, sharing,' and with the type now rendered in Myriad Pro for a more modern look.
In 2011, the institution's name was modified once more and Whitireia Community Polytechnic, although retaining that name as the accredited qualification provider, was rebranded as Whitireia New Zealand. The new name spoke to the national and international role that Whitireia now occupied, with Tim Renner, then Director of Communications and Marketing, stating that "The new brand talks about the collaborative, community roots that matter to the polytechnic, as well as positioning us strongly in domestic and international markets."
Whitireia Community Polytechnic is named after the Whitireia maunga (mountain) of Titahi Bay. This is the mountain that Ngāti Toa identify with, the highest mountain in their rohe... It is a relatively insignificant feature when compared with the soaring peaks of the Tararua and Rimutaka. Why then was it chosen to fit into this prominent role? Its significance lies in its function, not in its feature. In the early days, the main traffic route to the South Island was from this coast. The nor-westerly prevailing winds would be side-on, making crossing easier than coming from Wellington (Poneke) head-on. Returning, the navigators would look for the cone-shaped knob that would rise against the blue haze of the Tararuas. They would aim for this and find entry to the Porirua Harbour.
- Puoho Katene, Ngāti Toa kaumātua