Hawaiian Names: Lush and lovely

Hawaiian names

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: —and just call me Linaka.

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10 Responses to “Hawaiian Names: Lush and lovely”

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rachelmarie Says:

September 28th, 2009 at 12:17 am

I love the names Malia and Kalena. I know a girl named Kalena, but she isn’t a nice girl so she kind of ruined the name for me.

My Hawaiian name would be:
I actually really like it. It’s pretty and unique.

disa_lan Says:

September 28th, 2009 at 12:34 am

We had luau themed birthday party for my daughter one year. I made name tags that every ones Hawaiian names on one side and there real names on the other. I flipped the named tags over on a table so only the Hawaiian names could be seen. We then had everyone see if they could pick out their own name. It was a lot fun! My name in Hawaiian is Lika.

PDXLibrarian Says:

September 28th, 2009 at 7:18 am

My cousins are Hawaiian. The boys have European names (although they each have three middle names) and the girl is named Poni, which is Hawaiian for beautiful. She frequently has trouble in the US because her names sounds like the English word Pony though.

Abby Says:

September 28th, 2009 at 8:50 am

Neat – I’m Apikalia, mom to Aleka and Kalala (Clio doesn’t translate, so I used the name on her birth certificate, Claire.) My husband’s name, Arthur is Aka.

Cool names, but we’re far too pasty to pull off the island-vibe.

zafera Says:

September 28th, 2009 at 10:32 am

Does Barack count as a Hawaiian name? 🙂 My Hawaiian name (Nikola) is not that different from my real name (Nicola). I like the unique quality that changing the c to a k provides, though. Says:

September 28th, 2009 at 4:22 pm

I went to school with a girl named Noelani, she was %100 Polish, but her parents liked it because they conceived her in Hawaii. I don’t even have a Hawaiian name. My name doesn’t translate I guess.

Sophie Says:

September 28th, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I know a family from hawaii and all the girls names are Kaua Kahea and Kalea.The boys names are Sean Spencer And Skylar . strange huh?

moxielove Says:

July 15th, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I’ve only known boys named Kala, not girls. I’ve known an equal number of boys and girls named Kai. Same with Makana.

Also, “Lavi” is NOT a hawaiian name as the hawaiian language has no letter v. Possibly could be Lawi (pronounced Lavi)

If you want to be authentic, the hawaiian language only has 13 letters: AEHIKLMNOPUW and ` , the okina which acts as a glotal stop

My favorites by far, none of which are mentioned here are:
Nainoa (Nigh-no-ah)
Ikaika (Eee-kai-ka)
Keahi (Kay-ah-hee)
Kapua (Kah-poo-ah)

jeffsgirl Says:

August 6th, 2010 at 6:29 pm

having your name converted using one of those sites does not make it hawaiian, it just makes it hawaiian sounding. iekika (jessica) is not an hawaiian word. want a hawaiian name? use a hawaiian word, like the ones moxielove listed. i like:


myra Says:

February 6th, 2011 at 3:36 am

im malia. O o

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