Hawaiian Names: Lush and lovely

Hawaiian Names: Lush and lovely

If you look at the list of most popular names in the state of Hawaii, you won’t find them very different from others, with Chloe, Isabella and Madison, Ethan, Noah and Isaiah at the top.  It isn’t until you get quite a bit further down the list that you find names more reflective of the distinctive Hawaiian names, such as Kai, Leilani, Malia, Kainoa, and Kalena.

In the past, names have  held deep significance in the Hawaiian culture, especially prior to the arrival of English-speaking missionaries in the late 18th century.  Before that, the choice of a name involved the whole extended family, and was believed to have been  sent by the family’s ancestor god, either via a dream, a spoken message or some other sign, and to ignore it could mean illness or death to the baby.

Another old Hawaiian naming tradition was for several words— of particular significance to the parents– to be joined together into one long name, which would then be shortened into a nickname.  Much of this came to an end in 1880, when King Kamehameha IV enacted a law mandating that all citizens follow the standard European system of naming—that is using a Christian name followed by a surname–which didn’t exist before.

There are few families of names as lilting, rhythmic, and romantic as indigenous Hawaiian names.  In both sound and meaning, they evoke pleasant images, many of them related to nature—flowers, the forest, sky and water.  Part of this flavor derives from the fact that there are only five vowels and seven consonants in the language, making the names rich in vowel sounds, each of which is pronounced as a separate syllable.  Many English names have been “Hawaiianized,”  to accommodate the missing consonants. (see below to translate your own name to Hawaiian)

Many, if not most, traditional Hawaiian names are used interchangeably for girls and boys, but here are some that are more or less gender specific, with their meanings and/or English equivalents.  Note that the accent is always on the next to last syllable.)


AKELINA  —  noble (form of Adeline)

ALAMEA —  ripe, precious

ALANI  —  orange tree

ALEKA —  nobility ( form of Alice)

ALOHI  —  shining, brilliant

EMALIA —  industrious

EMELINA —  (form of Emmeline)

HOKU   —  star

IOANA —  God’s gracious gift (form of Joanna)

IOLANA  —  to soar

KAI, KAIA  —  the sea

KALA  —  princess (form of Sarah)

KALAMA – the flaming torch

KALOLINA —  (form of Caroline)

KIANA  —  (form of Diana)

KUKANA  —  lily (form of Susannah)

LANI —   sky, heaven

LEILANI  —  heavenly flowers

LILIA  —  lily

LUANA  —  enjoyment

LULANI  —  highest point in heaven

MAHINA  —  moon

MAKANA  —  gift

MALIA  —  bitter (form of Mary)

NALANI  —  the heavens

NANALA  —  sunflower

OLIANA—  oleander

PALILA  —  bird

POLALA  —  flower, (form of Flora)


AKAMU  —  son of the red earth (form of Adam)

AKELA  —  blessed, fortunate (form of Asher)

ALEKA  —  defender of mankind (form of Alex)

EKELA  —  help (form of Ezra)

ELIKAI  —  ever powerful (form of Elisha)

HUANU —  God is gracious (form of Juan/John)

HUKO —  heart, mind, spirit (form of Hugo)

IKAIA  —  God is salvation (form of Isaiah)

KAI  —  the sea

KALANI  —  the heavens

KEANU  —  cool breeze

KIMO  —  the supplanter (form of James)

LAVI  —  lion

LIKO  —  bud

LIO  —  lion

LUKA  —  light (form of Luke)

MAKANI  —  the wind

MANU  —  bird

NEMO  —  smooth, polished

If you’d like to find out what your name—or your child’s—would be in Hawaiian, go to: http://hawaiiannames.hisurf.com/ —and just call me Linaka.

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.