Hawaiian Names: The Ultimate Guide

Hawaiian Names: The Ultimate Guide

Hawaiian names are currently experiencing unprecedented levels of popularity, even far beyond the Hawaiian islands.

From traditional Hawaiian names like Leilani and Kai to new innovations based on Hawaiian sounds and style, like Meilani, their flowing sounds and energetic appeal speak to mainstream American tastes as never before.

Hawaiian names are also particularly popular with Hispanic and Latin American parents, due to their bright, simple sounds that work in many languages.

If you are considering a Hawaiian name for your child, please take the time to understand the cultural context before deciding if one is right for your family.

Here, an insider's guide to Hawaiian names, naming practices and pronunciation.

Traditional Hawaiian Naming

Name meaning is among the most important components of traditional Hawaiian naming. Traditional Hawaiian names carry literal meanings as well as subtle poetic associations. Noelani literally means "heavenly mist", but mist was considered to represent a sense of romance.

A name's meaning may convey hopes for the child, family history, or spiritual guidance. Old Hawaiians often had various names, both formal and informal throughout their lifetimes. Names were changed to commemorate life events or if they were thought to be bringing harm to the bearer.

Parents would change the names of their sick children into something with an unpleasant meaning, such as Kapela ("the filth") or Pupuka ("ugly") to ward off evil and protect the child.

Because these early Hawaiian names were personally tailored to the bearer, there was little overlap. Many Hawaiians had one-of-a-kind names, or else shared their name with only a few others.

A child's name had to match the social class they were born into. Kauwā, the lowest class, were limited to straightforward names with ties to nature.

The chief class had the exclusive rights to names beginning with Kealiʻi, meaning "the chief", and ending in -lani, meaning "sky" or "heaven". Old royal names were also much longer, such as that of Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku, a Hawaiian king whose name means "Keawe, the foremost chief of the island".

Traditional Hawaiian names were considered unisex, even names we think of as feminine, such as Leilani, or masculine, such as Keanu. It is relatively recent that old Hawaiian names have become associated with a particular sex.

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 the islands' names.

Like many other states, the most popular names in Hawai’i for 2022 were Olivia and Noah. Further down the list, however, you'll find many names with Hawaiian roots, like Kailani and Keanu, that rank relatively high on the charts.

Names like Luna and Mila, Luca and Micah are also more common than average in Hawai’i, in part because they are made up of sounds native to the Hawaiian language.

Below, the most popular Hawaiian origin names in Hawai’i.

Top Hawaiian Names in Hawai’i

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 thirteen letters, which include the okina.

A basic Hawaiian language pronunciation guide follows. For more detailed and accurate information, consult a Hawaiian language resource such as Kanaeokana, Ulukau, or better yet, a Hawaiian speaker!

Hawaiian Vowels

A — short “ah” as in father

E — “eh” as in bed

I — “ee” as in tree

O — “oh” as in go

U — “oo” as in room

Hawaiian Diphthongs

The sounds in Hawaiian diphthongs blend together unless interrupted by an okina (ʻ), indicating a glottal stop.

ae — "eye"

ai — "eye-ee"

ao — "ah-oh"

au — "ow" as in cow

ei — "ay-ee", like a long A followed by "E"

eu — "eh-oo"

oi — “oy” as in oyster

ou — "oh-oo"

Hawaiian Consonants

H, K, L, M, N, P — these letters are pronounced the same way as in standard English

W — This one can be tricky for non-native speakers; pronounced as a cross between an English W and V

Okina (ʻ) — this consonant, 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 or kahakō — a straight bar — over it, which indicates that’s where the emphasis should be.

Double consonants are nonexistent in Hawaiian.

Hawaiian Baby Names

There are many more eligible Hawaiian names beyond Leilani and Kai. If you have Hawaiian roots and want to incorporate your heritage into your child's name, you might consider some of these rarer options.

Here is a selection of some of the most appealing Hawaiian baby names, many of which have historically been used for both sexes.

Pseudo-Hawaiian Names

With Hawaiian names becoming fashionable throughout the US and the world, spinoffs based on Hawaiian sounds and style have sprung up.

Many sound attractive and on-trend to the non-native ear, but if you're looking for an authentic Hawaiian name it's worth double-checking the origin of your favorite choices!

One common way that non-native speakers adapt Hawaiian names is to respell them to feel either more familiar or more unique. For example, Leilani might become Laylani by association with Layla, or Lailonni for a distinctive spin.

Others take parts of Hawaiian names, such as the popular -lani suffix, and add a non-Hawaiian beginning like Jay, creating the Anglo-Hawaiian smoosh Jaylani. This may make for an attractive name, but it’s no longer authentically Hawaiian.

Eight pseudo-Hawaiian names, all with the -lani suffix, currently rank in the US Top 1000. Find them below, in order of popularity.

Top Pseudo-Hawaiian Baby Names

Hawaiian Versions of English Names

In 1860, Hawai’i’s King Kamehameha IV signed the Act to Regulate Names, mandating that all Hawaiians receive an English given name. Hawaiian names were used as middle names, and a child's surname could come from their father's first name. This law was finally repealed in 1967.

During this century, many Hawaiian parents used translations of English names for their children, as many English sounds are not pronounceable in Hawaiian. Royal names like Wikolia (Victoria) and Alapaki (Albert) were often used, along with biblical names such as Luka (Ruth) and Ioane (John). In most cases, an English name was used on the birth certificate, while the person would be called the Hawaiian version in their daily life.

In the mid-20th century, it became more common to put Hawaiian translations directly on the birth certificate. The first Hawaiian variation of an English name to appear on the charts was Kimo (James) in 1949, followed by Malia (Mary) in 1958 and Keoni (John) in 1969.

In the 1970s, Alika (Alex, male), Paulo (Paul), Palani (Frank), Kiana (Diana), Mele (Mary), Kale (Charles), and Lopaka (Robert) joined the charts in Hawai’i.

Here, a selection of Hawaiian versions of English names.

Ailika — Iris

Aka — Ada, Arthur

Akamu — Adam

Akelina  Adeline


ʻAlika — Alex

Aleka — Alice

Anakoni — Anthony

Apikalia — Abigail

Ekewaka — Edward


Elenola — Eleanor

Elikapeka — Elizabeth


Ewalina — Evelyn



Ikaia — Isaiah

Ioane — John (biblical)

Iokepa — Joseph

Iokepine — Josephine

Iakona  Jason



Kalaki — Charlotte

Kalala — Claire

Kale — Charles


Kamuela — Samuel

Kana — Hannah


Kāwika David (biblical)

Keke — Kate

Keoki — George

KeoniJohn (English)


Kiana — Diana

Kikilia — Cecilia


Kimo — James

Kina — Dinah, Gina, Tina

KiniDean, Gene, Jane, Jean

Kona — Don, Donna



Likeke — Richard

Loke — Rose

Lopaka — Robert

LukaLuke, Ruth




Makelina — Madeline

MaliaMary (biblical), Maria

Mele — Mary (English)






Pela — Bella, Belle



Polola — Flora

Wikolia — Victoria

About the Author

Sophie Kihm

Sophie Kihm

Sophie Kihm has been writing for Nameberry since 2015. She has contributed stories on the top 2020s names, Gen Z names, and cottagecore baby names. Sophie is Nameberry’s resident Name Guru to the Stars, where she suggests names for celebrity babies. She also manages the Nameberry Instagram and Pinterest.

Sophie Kihm's articles on names have run on People, Today, The Huffington Post, and more. She has been quoted as a name expert by The Washington Post, People, The Huffington Post, and more. You can follow her personally on Instagram or Pinterest, or contact her at Sophie lives in Chicago.