Category: Hawaiian names

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 futher down the list that you find names more reflective of the distinctive native nomenclature, 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 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

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Love That Name, but…

Wherever Ewe Go, There Ewe Are is the wonderful blog of today’s guest blogger formally known as “Ewe,” an American living in the United Kingdom with her Scottish husband.  She’s the mom of two sons, ages four and two, and is expecting a daughter, known for now as Lambchop.

I always thought I’d know exactly what I would name my daughter, but now that I’m actually having one, I’m seriously waffling. There are soooo many lovely girl names out there. And as a result, some of my ‘sure thing’ name combination options aren’t looking so ‘sure thing’ anymore. In fact, a whole slew of girls names that I have always thought I would give ultra-serious consideration to were almost immediately off the table for a whole variety of reasons.

Here, girls’ names I love and admire….but WON’T be using.

1. FREYA. I adore the name Freya. In fact, back when I was pregnant with Boo, before I knew Boo was a “he”, Freya was at the top of my list for a wee girl. It’s a gorgeous name that doesn’t even crack the top 1000 list in the U.S., which is a head-scratcher for me because it’s a chronic top 20 name in England and Scotland. But, sadly, that’s why we took it off our list now that we’re actually having a girl; it’s waaaay too popular here. I see so many little Freyas everywhere I go here. If we lived in the states, this would be our likely choice. But we don’t, so it’s out.

2. MALIA. Another long, long-time favorite name. One of my sister’s best friends growing up was named Malia; and I fell even more in love with it during my six years in Hawaii. It’s just so pretty when it rolls off the tongue. But then we elected a new President last year, and guess what? His oldest girl’s name is Malia, which means it’s going to go straight up the popularity charts. Plus, it’s Hawaiian, and my husband isn’t quite as keen on the idea.

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