Recently we heard Lisa Bonet gave her son a Hawaiian name, Nakoa-Wolf, and Hawaiian names like Kai keep popping up in the media—they really seem to be gaining popularity! We eloped in Hawaii and would like to give our baby a Hawaiian name. What can you tell us about Hawaiian naming customs and traditions?
On the surface, it would appear that Lisa Bonet (a.k.a. Lilakoi Moon) and hubby Jason Momoa chose a name for their son that sounds like a run-on sentence. His full name is Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha and it includes the Hawaiian words for warrior, spirit, rain, and dark.
An outsider may wonder why so much is crammed into one name, but a Hawaiian would know that this is consistent with their tradition.
Today, the most popular baby names in Hawaii are Noah and Sophia, but according to legend, a name is considered to be a person's greatest possession; it carries with it a force and life of its own. Since Hawaiian was originally a spoken or oral language, only first names were used—and they tended to be flowing, creative, unique, descriptive, and long!
Other traditions have also evolved from Hawaii's unique naming culture. In 1770, British explorer James Cook landed on the islands, bringing a wave of explorers, sailors, merchants, and missionaries. When American missionaries arrived in 1820, island culture and customs appeared wild and uncivilized. Great attempts were made to convert the native Hawaiian population to Christianity and to establish a written, phonetic language. As a result, many English names were given Hawaiian renderings. Thus, Alexander became Alekanekelo, Jason was known as Iakona, Karen became Kalena, and Caroline became Kalolina or Kalolaina.
Then came the Act to Regulate Names: Between 1860 and 1967, Hawaiian parents were required to give their children last names—and Christian first names. To comply with the law, many families began the custom of giving Hawaiian middle names to their children. It's a practice that continues to this day.
Dreams are believed to be powerful signs and portents in Hawaiian culture, and often considered an expression of divine will. Our advice? Play close attention to your dreams and the dreams of close family members, and your child's name might be revealed tonight!