The Hawaiian language makes beautiful use of its 12 letters for names that are lyrical and rhythmic. Some names today are Anglicized versions of Western names while others have a specific meaning in Hawaiian that may make them the perfect fit for a new baby. Besides being beautiful sounding, there’s also a rich history and tradition behind them.

The History Behind Hawaiian Names

In Hawaiian culture, names have great significance. Well-known Hawaiian scholar, Mary Kawena Pukui, explained that a name was a precious possession, it “became a living entity…identified a person and could influence health, happiness and even life span.” Names parallel how the language functions. Both are a way of telling stories and preserving history.

In centuries past, a naming ceremony could involve the entire community. As missionaries became a larger presence on the islands in the early 19th century, Christian names became more common. Western colonial influence stifled the Hawaiian language. Eventually, it was legally required for children to have Christian names. This was not repealed until 1967. Now some Hawaiians are reviving old naming traditions.

The Types of Hawaiian Names

Traditionally, there are three common types of Hawaiian names. Names are typically unisex and also could refer to lineage or ancestry regardless of fitting into these types. Each shows another aspect of spiritual or natural connection.

An inoa pō name was given when a family member saw the name in a dream. It suggested a connection to the ancestral realm. Inoa hō‘ailona names stem from a family member seeing a vision or a mystical sign in nature. Finally, there are inoa ‘ūlāleo, or voice names. These names came from voices heard speaking the name directly or in an oblique message.

Other names could be given by a community leader instead of a family member. Some names were meant to protect children from negative traits. For example, naming a child a name that meant “sticky-eyed” to avoid them turning out just like that. This last one isn’t used as often anymore.

Hawaiian Names & Cultural Appropriation

If you’re not native Hawaiian or from the islands, you may be wondering if it’s permissible to use a Hawaiian name for your baby. Some people find naming children, white children, in particular, names from other cultures to be a type of cultural appropriation.

After all, Hawaii has a long and complicated history with colonialism and oppression from the mainland. We see some of this in branding. For example, recent controversies around companies attempting to trademark “Aloha” have sparked protests. When non-Hawaiians profit off of Hawaiian culture without contributing to the community or acknowledging their place in relation to history and privilege, it’s cultural appropriation.

Is this true for naming? The line between appropriation and appreciation needs to be approached with sensitivity. One way to handle this is to use Hawaiian names that are based on Western names or names that have origins in multiple cultures. Or if you do choose a traditional Hawaiian name with an actual meaning, consider avoiding names that have significant historic, religious, or spiritual significance. You can also spend time studying indigenous Hawaiian culture more deeply. And, in turn, share this with your child.

Ultimately it’s your decision, and naming your baby always requires some thought. Here’s a list of over 100 top Hawaiian names.

Westernized Hawaiian Names

Alika is the Hawaiian equivalent of Alec.
Alikae is the Hawaiian analog of Alex or Alice.
Akamu is the Hawaiian version of Adam, or “the ground.”
Anakoni is the Hawaiian form of Anthony, which means “priceless one.”
Ikaia is the Hawaiian Isaiah.
Kala is the Hawaiian equivalent of Sara. Sara can mean “princess” or may refer to the wife of Abraham in the Old testament.
Kale, not pronounced like the leafy green, is the Hawaiian version of Charles.
Kawika is a Hawaiian derivative of David, which means “beloved of Yahweh.”
Kaniela is a unisex Hawaiian version of name Daniel or Daniela. It means “only god is my judge.”
Keoki is a Hawaiian variant of George. It means “alive.”
Keoni is the Hawaiian John.
Kiana is the Hawaiian version of Danianne or Diana. It means “divine.”
Kimo is the Hawaiian equivalent to James or Jim.
Malia is the Hawaiian form of Maria. Maria has multiple meanings including “drop of the sea” and “star.”
Makaio is the Hawaiian derivative of Matthew, or “gift of Yahweh.”
Meleis is the Hawaiian equivalent of Mary. Multiple meanings exist, including “wished for child” or “rebellious.” Can also be shortened to Mele.
Melika is the Hawaiian analog of Melissa. Melissa means “bee” or “honey.”
Mikaela is the Hawaiian version of the Hebrew name Michelle, meaning “who resembles God.”
Noa is the Hawaiian, French, and Croatian version of Noah.
Peni is a Hawaiian derivative of Ben.

Popular Hawaiian Baby Names

Kai is a unisex Hawaiian name that means “sea”. It’s in the top 100 most popular baby names overall in the United States.
Kaia means “fast asleep” or “sea.” Also has a Greek origin.
Kailani is another popular name, meaning “heaven and sky.”
Kaimana is a unisex name (more popular for boys) meaning “power of the sea” or “beach.”
Kainalu is the Hawaiian word for “surf.”
Kainoa signifies “place.”
Kaleo means “saying or expression.” Perhaps a good option for your burgeoning writer.
Kalena is a popular Hawaiian girls name that is the word for “radiate.”
Kanye is a Hawaiian boys name. This means free. Though be aware that they may not associate the Hawaiian word, so much as the rapper Kanye West.
Keanu is another name with famous associations. It means “cool breeze over the mountains.”
Leilani is also quite popular. It means “heavenly child.”
Mahina is another name referring to the moon.
Moana means “ocean or sea.” Unsurprisingly, this name spiked in popularity after Disney released the titular film.

Hawaiian Nature Names

Alapai is a name that means “coastal area.”
Alaula refers to the light of dawn
Anuenue signifies “rainbow.”
Aukai is a name for those who love the sea, a seafarer.
Haleakala means “house of the rising sun.” Like many other Hawaiian names, it connects to the celestial.
Hema is a beautiful name for “south.”
Hilo refers to the first night after the new moon. A lovely option.
Iolana means “to soar like an eagle.” Set your baby up for achieving their greatest dreams.
Kahikū is a name for “star”.
Kailua signifies “two seas.”
Kalama is a unisex name that is more commonly used for girls. It means “flaming torch.”
Keola refers to “life.”
Kiele is a great name if you want to name your child after a flower. In this case, gardenias.
Koukakala means “dark river.”
Kumulāʻau is a name that means “tree.”
La is a simple, powerful name that means “the sun.”
Lei is a word for “flowers.”
Mahi’ai means “farmer.”
Makani is a rhythmic name for “the wind”
Mamo is a name with two meanings: “yellow bird” and “saffron flower.”
Manu is another name for the avian-inclined.
Nahele is a beautiful name for “forest.”
Oliwa keeps the tree theme going. It means “olive tree.”
Onaona refers to a “sweet fragrance.”
Palila means “bird” as well.
Pōhaku is a Hawaiian boys name which means “rock.”
Wai nani is a name that means “beautiful water.”

Hawaiian Names With Special Meanings

Ahonui is a name that means “patient” if you want an optimistic name for your child.
Akau is a Hawaiian name for “god.”
Akiliano refers to a person from Hadria.
Alamea is a name for a precious, volcanic stone.
Alebana is a name that refers to someone from the city of Alba.
Alo is a name that means, “the face.”
Aloha can be a greeting, a farewell, or a name that means “love.”
Alohi signifies “brilliant.”
Aloiki is a name that means “renowned warrior.”
Apela means “old.” Great name if you look into your baby’s eyes and see an ancient and wise soul.
Etana is a Hawaiian word for “strong.”
Hanohano signifies nobility.
Hauoli is the Hawaiian name for happiness.
Havika is a name that means “beloved.”
Hoʻomana is another affectionate name. This one means “adored.”
Iki is a short name that means “small.”
Ka mea ʻimi is a name that means “the seeker” or “the dew seeker.”
Ka’ahumanu can be used to mean “bird cloak” or refer to the historic 18th century queen of Hawaii.
Kahale is a Hawaiian word for home.
Kaholo might be a great name for your future track star. It means “swift.”
Kaipo means “sweetheart.”
Kanani, or “beautiful,” is another lovely name.
Kanoa refers to a hollow of land.
Kapu injects a bit of mystery into naming. It means “forbidden.”
Keaka means “theater.”
Ke’ala is a name that means “the path.”
Keawe refers to a southern star.
Kekapa is a name that means “the cloth.”
Konane is another celestial name, meaning “bright moonlight.”
Ku is the god of prosperity.
Lili’uokalani signifies someone who is high-born or of noble birth.
Lilo was popularized by the Disney film, Lilo and Stitch. It means “one who is generous.”
Māhoe is a Hawaiian word for “twin,”
Malie means “calm.”
Malui is a variant of Malie which means “peacefulness.”
Maui is a mythological figure who created the islands and accomplished many other legendary feats.
Meka has multiple meanings including “eye” and “beloved one.”
Mino’aka means “smile.”
Nani kōkī is a great Hawaiian girls name. It means “supremely beautiful.”
Nohea, conversely, is a good Hawaiian boys name. It means “handsome.”
Palani is a name that means “sour.”
Tua is a Polynesian name meaning “behind or at the back.”
Uluwehi is a lovely name about progress. It means “growing in beauty.”
Wena can signify the glow of any bright object.

Once you have an option selected from this list of Hawaiian names, that’s something to check off the new parent task list. Get ahead of the game by figuring out your child care now. Sittercity can help you find the child care help that you and your baby need.

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