Hawaiian Names: A Complete Guide

Hawaiian Names: A Complete Guide

Hawaiian names are becoming more and more trendy. From Hawaiian-ized versions of English names like Malia, to the traditional yet popular Leilani, a Hawaiian name may just be the right one for your baby.  Here, the details on Hawaiian names, naming practices, and pronunciation.

Traditional Hawaiian Naming

In pre-European Hawai’i, the Hawaiian people named their children with very long phrases. For example, a newborn boy might be called something along the lines of — but of course, translated into the proper Hawaiian — “The one who finds Pele (the Hawaiian goddess of fire and lava) and follows her into a volcano and convinces her to bring eternal peace and prosperity to his people.”

Hawaiian people were customarily called by nicknames, which usually consisted of the first word or two of their actual names. The boy in the previous example would probably simply be called “The one.”

Modern Hawaiian Naming

In modern Hawai’i, ethnicities and cultures are very diverse. Currently, about 39% of the population is Asian, 24% of multi-ethnic background, 25% Caucasian, and only 10% Pacific Islander, including Hawaiian. This diversity is reflected in Hawaii’s names.

One common way that people name their babies is to give them a first name that corresponds with their culture and a middle name of Hawaiian origins. For example, a baby girl of Israeli background may be given the name of Abia Kai.

Hawaiian Baby Names

Here is a short list of attractive and plausible Hawaiian baby names and their meanings:

Akamai – Intelligent

Alaka’i – Leader

Ali’i – Chief

Emi – To diminish

Hau’oli – Happiness

Hina – Moon

Hoaloha – Friend

Huaka’i – Journey

Iki – S__econd

Kai – Sea

Kalā – The Sun

Kalani – The skies; the heavens

Kaleo – The voice

Keanu – cool breeze over the mountains

Kia – Mast of a ship; to steer

Koa – Courage

Lani – Sky; heaven; chief

Lei – Flower necklace

Leilani – Heavenly flowers

Leo – Voice

Mahina – The day before the full moon

Makana – Gift

Me’e – Hero

Mele — M__usic

Moana – Ocean

Nani – Beautiful

Nui – First

‘Olu – Kind

Pana – Arrow

Pono – Hope

U’i – Youthful hero

Hawaiian Versions of Other Names

Yes, there is a version of your name in Hawaiian. All you have to do is translate it!

The Hawaiian language has only 12 letters, so you have to find the closest phonetic translation possible. I’ll use my name, Skyler, as an example. Since there is no S in Hawaiian, you can replace it with a K. And because every syllable has to end with a vowel and there are no double letters, you add an A after that. You keep the original K and replace the Y with an I. The L and E remain but the R gets swapped for an L and an I is added to the end to keep Hawaiian rules. So, there we have it – Kakileli.

Here is how you translate your name into Hawaiian:

– Vowels don’t change

– Z, X, T, G, C, D, S, and Q transition into a K

– Y turns into I

– V becomes W

– J can become either a K or I, depending on the name

– B and F turn into P

– K, L, H, W, M, N, and P remain the same

– Replace R with L

Some names don’t need a translation. Ali, you’re all set.

On the other hand, if your name is a word, such as Honor, you have a second option: Use the literal Hawaiian translation. Instead of replacing the letters to get Honola, you can use Pāpahi, which means honor.

Fake Hawaiian Names

With Hawaiian names becoming fashionable throughout the US and the world, knockoffs have sprung up. Sometimes these come from “creative” spellings, with the beautiful classic Leilani spelled as Lhaylonie by those looking to give their child something more “unique”.

Others take parts of Hawaiian names, such as the popular “-lani” suffix, and add a non-Hawaiian beginning like Bea, creating the inauthentic Bealani. This may make for an attractive name, but it’s no longer Hawaiian.

If you’re looking for a genuine Hawaiian name for your child, steer away from:

– Names containing non-Hawaiian characters

-Names that don’t conform to Hawaiian phonetics

-Names that don’t fit in with other Hawaiian names

Here are a few of the most common pseudo-Hawaiian names:  








Hawaiian Pronunciation

The Hawaiian language, which is a Polynesian dialect, has simple and strict rules when it comes to spelling and pronunciation.  It consists of only twelve letters as well as punctuation, pronounced as follows:

A- “Aw” as in dog is the standard, but “a” as ran & “uh” as in love are also acceptable.

E- “Ay”, as in rain

I- “Ee”, as in tree

O- “Oh”, as in go

U- “Oo”, as in room

Oi – “Oy”, as in oy__ster

Ai – “I”, as in my

H, K, L, M, N, P- These letters are pronounced the same way as in standard English.

W- This one is tricky. The Hawaiian W is pronounced as a cross between an English W & V.

Okina (ʻ): This symbol, unique to Hawaiian and its cousin languages, represents a glottal stop, like before each syllable of “uh-oh” in English. Because this symbol is often missing from non-Hawaiian keyboards, an apostrophe is often used in its place.

Emphasis is always put on the second-to-last syllable in a word; the only exception to this rule is if a vowel has a macron — a straight bar — over it, which indicates that’s where the emphasis should be.

Double-consonants are nonexistent in Hawaiian.

About the Author

Rosalind "Skyler" Rathbun