« Back

Hawaiian Names – Significance and Meanings

Hawaiian Names

Hawaiian Names: Hawaii’s last monarch, born Lydia Liliu Loloku Walania Kamakaeha, assumed the name Liliuokalani when she became heir apparent to the throne.


THE proper giving or accepting of personal Hawaiian names was no small matter in ancient Hawaii. A name represented love and protection. The act of naming a baby created a special relationship that joined the realms of spirits and humans and provided guidance and security for the child. Personal names were also used to link generations within a bloodline. Names commemorated individuals both living and deceased or events that were significant to the family or to the time.

Some of the more traditional Hawaiian names were given in dreams at night to a member of the family of the newborn by an ancestral guardian spirit, or aumakua. These names appeared through symbols, or through images of familiar people, places or objects. Other Hawaiian names came in clear, spoken directives from the akua (gods) themselves. These inoa po, or night names, were revealed shortly before or after the birth of a child and were to be given immediately to the baby. Failure to bestow the inoa po, and to do it quickly, resulted in the baby’s being susceptible to chronic sickness, crippling or even death. The inoa po ensured the presence of the aumakua in the child’s life. Without the aumakua’s spiritual protection, the child was vulnerable to harmful spirits that brought misfortune.

Hawaiian Names - Histories by Carol SilvaA Hawaiian name was not always given permanently. If a couple had repeatedly lost children in infancy, they were counseled to give their next baby a repulsive name to make the child undesirable to harmful spiritual forces. Hence, names such as Naaupo (“dimwitted”), Pupuka (“unattractive”) and Pilau (“foul-smelling”) were common. Since a child was considered to be physically and spiritually in danger until the age of 7, the unappealing name was kept until then. When the child reached 7, he or she acquired a new, more suitable name.

Hawaiian names were genderless and often changed as people and their situations changed. Hawaii’s last queen was born Lydia Liliu Loloku Walania Kamakaeha—“smarting, tearful, an­guish, the painful eye”—in acknowledgment of the revered queen regent, Kinau, who suffered from eye problems. As a child, she was called by her Christian name, Lydia. Then, in 1877, when her brother, King David Kalakaua, designated her as heir apparent to the throne, he modified her name Liliu to the more exalted Liliuokalani—“okalani” meaning “of the heavens,” signifying royal status.

Many names of chiefs of the more distant past have become so obscured through time—as have the circumstances of their naming—that they are virtually untranslatable today.

As a child, the high chiefess Keopuolani was called Wahine­pio and Kalanikauikaalaneo, both names declarations of her sacred rank. She was given the Hawaiian name Keopuolani at the bat­tle of Nuuanu by one of the Oahu chiefs. She was also known as Kai, Makuahanaukama and by her Christian name, Harriet.

The chiefs Kamehameha and Kuakini assumed several names during their lives as well. Kamehameha was originally called Kunuiakea Kamehameha. However, as a young warrior, because of his athletic prowess, he acquired the name Paiea—“hard-shelled crab.” He was also called Kanihonui and in his adult life became simply Kamehameha.

Kuakini, governor of the island of Hawaii, was born Kalu­aikonahale. His Hawaiian name referred to Konahale, the final resting place of the beloved chiefess Kalola, at Kalamaula on Molokai. He took the name of his half-brother, Kuakiniokekua, upon this brother’s death. He was also called John Adams by foreigners and was known as Kiipalaoku (“smeared image of the god Ku”).

For Hawaiians of old, determining the proper Hawaiian name for an individual was a most serious matter. It involved ancestral gods, family members, personal milestones, important personages and events. As the person changed—or the person’s situation—so did the name.

(Photo by Hawaii State Archives)


Read more of Carol Silva’s fascinating, unique histories of the Hawaiian Islands:

Royal Pets
Riding the Old Oahu Railway
Oh, We’re Going to a Hukilau
A Wealth of Water
Guardian of the Bones
The Sweet Side of Hawaii
Dining with the Royals
Literacy’s Champion
Tourists of Old
Sacred Silence
Land of the Menehune


5 Responses to “Hawaiian Names – Significance and Meanings”

  1. Liz Anderson

    Ms Silva, I enjoyed your website. I have a company in Honolulu and need your assistance in presenting the authentic Hawaii.

  2. gerri

    Loved reading these stories. I loved visiting Oahu first time 2014

  3. Brett Uprichard

    “Oki” means several things, including cut and sever.


Leave A Comment