WHAT’S IN A NAME? THE HAWAIʻI EDITION

As you may (or may not) know, at the beginning of this year I started learning Hawaiian. And if you are learning a certain language, it is always nice to brush up on your geography knowledge. But don’t worry, I won’t be telling you where the individual islands of the Aloha State or some of its culturally or historically important places are located. Instead, I am going to tell you what’s behind their names.

Hawaiʻi 

There is more than one theory regarding the etymology of this word, but it can be broken down to “ha” = “the breath of life”, “wai” = “water”, and “i” = “supreme” or sometimes “God”.

Maui 

The island is said to be named after Maui, the eldest son of Hawaiʻiloa who – according to a famous legend – was a fisherman, navigator, and the settler of Hawaiʻi. The exact translation of the word is not known.

Oʻahu 

The name has no confirmed meaning in the Hawaiian language. However, according to the legend, it was the name of Hawaiʻiloa’s daughter.

Kauaʻi

Similarly to Maui and Oʻahu, the name “Kauaʻi” traces its roots to the legend of Hawaiʻiloa. It is believed that the island was named after the navigator’s favourite son.

Molokaʻi 

According to the book “Place Names of Hawaii”, the island got its name from a child of Hina, who herself was a Hawaiian goddess. The exact translation is not given.

Lānaʻi

This island is said to be the only inhabited Hawaiian island whose name has a known etymology. According to some sources, it can be translated as “conquest day” (“lā” = “day”, “sun” and “naʻi” = “conquer”).

Niʻihau 

The etymology of this word is not known.

Kahoʻolawe 

The name of this uninhabited island is loosely translated as “the one that erodes” or “the carrying away” (“ka” = “the”, “hoʻolawe” = “to subtract”).

Honolulu

The name of the state’s capital means “calm port” or “sheltered harbour” (“hono” = “bay”, “gulch”, “valley”, “lulu” = “calm”, “peace”, “shelter”, “protection”).

Waikīkī 

The name of this famous neighbourhood in Honolulu translates as “spouting water” (“wai” – “water”, “kīkī” – “to spout”, “to shoot”).

Ala Moana

“Ala Moana” literally translates as “path to the sea”, as “ala” means “path” or “road” and “moana” means “ocean” or “open sea”.

Hilo

It is thought that the city was named for the first night of the new moon or for a Polynesian navigator. However, in the Hawaiian language the word means “to twist”, “to braid”, “to spin”, “twisted”, “braided”, “threadlike”.

Mauna Loa

The name of the first of five volcanoes that form the island of Hawaiʻi can be translated as “long mountain” (“mauna” = “mountain”, “loa” = “long”, “tall”, “distant”).

Mauna Kea

The name of the second volcano translates as “white mountain” (“mauna” = “mountain”, “kea” = “white”, “clear”).

Kīlauea

According to the authors of “Place Names of Hawaii” the name of the third volcano means “spewing” or “much spreading”.

Kohala

The name of the fourth volcano is of uncertain origin.

 Hualālai

It is believed that this volcano was named after the wife of Hawaii Loa, a famous Hawaiian navigator.

Punaluʻu

The name of this black sand beach translates as “coral dived for” or “spring dived for” (“puna” = “spring”, “coral”, “luʻu” = “to dive”, “to plunge into water”, “to immerse”).

Kahului

The name of this city can be translated as “winning”.

Iao

The word “iao” – which is the name of the valley in Maui – translates as “cloud supreme”.

Kapaʻa

It is said that the name of this city comes from Hawaiian word meaning “solid”.

Polihale

The name of this remote beach literally means “house bosom” (“poli” = “bosom”, “breast”, “hale” = “house”).

Hālawa

The name of this coastal valley translates as “curved”.

Kalaupapa

The name of the site of the former leper colony comes from words “ka” = “the”, “lau” = “surface”, “blade”, and “papa” = “flat surface” and is roughly translated as “the flat plain”.

Kaneʻapua

The famous rock was named for a shark brother of Pele and of Kāne and Kanaloa. The word can be translated as “Kāne fish trap”.

Puʻuwai

The only settlement on the island of Niʻihau has the most beautiful name, as the word “puʻuwai” means “heart”.


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