The sound of the times in girls’ names is freshness with a liquid grace. It’s no surprise, then that Hawaiian names are on the rise, both in the Hawaiian Islands and throughout the United States. Their distinctive flow is a perfect twist on current style, and captures the imagination, too.
If you’re looking for genuine Hawaiian girls’ names that are currently popular in Hawaii, you can scroll down now to browse the list. But if you’d like a little more background on Hawaiian names, read on.
The Hawaiian language is built from a small set of sounds, including very few hard or rough-edged consonants. Consonant sounds are always separated by vowels—almost like islands surrounded by the flow of water. The shape of the names conveys a powerful sense of place, which makes parents particularly eager to match the sound to literal meanings and origins.
Understanding the full meanings of Hawaiian names, though, can be a challenge. After generations of suppression, Hawaiian is an endangered language with few native speakers. It’s also a language with no traditional writing system, so written Hawaiian is an English-based alphabet that can blur some distinctions, especially when you drop the markings that distinguish, say, kalia from kālia from kali’a.
What’s more, many popular name roots have a wide range of meanings that can lead to wildly different interpretations. Take the classic Leilani, which has been familiar to mainlanders ever since Bing Crosby sang about a “Sweet Leilani” back in 1937. You’ll usually see the name’s meaning given as “heavenly flowers,” because it’s built from the word lei (a garland, as of flowers or shells) + lani (sky, heavens). But lani also means “highness” or “royal,” especially when used as a form of address to a high chief…or in a name. And lei can also refer to a beloved child, reportedly due to the lei-like shape of a child’s legs as she rides on a parent or sibling’s shoulders. So “royal child” may be a better interpretation of the name.
I am no expert on Hawaiian language or culture, but understanding and respecting names is high on my agenda. To compile a list of real Hawaiian names, I looked in two directions: to scholarly resources, and to the people of present-day Hawaii. Every name on my list is currently used as a baby name in Hawaii, and much more common there than in the rest of the country. And every meaning and derivation has been verified in multiple reputable sources. Note, though, that in name origins “real” doesn’t necessarily mean “traditional.” Names continue to evolve in every culture. Some of the names listed are contemporary, or borrowed from English words (like Anela, meaning “angel”). But every one is distinctly, and proudly, Hawaiian.
Photo: Getty Images
|Anuhea||Cool mist; fragrance of a mountain forest|
|Hali’a||Fond recollection, cherished memory|
|Hi’ilani||Praise, exalt; care for|
|Kailani||Heavenly sea (“sea” + “sky/heavens/highness”)|
|Kailea||Joyful sea (“sea” + “joy, pleasure”)|
|Kaʻiulani||The most elevated majesty or sacred heaven (the name of an admired Hawaiian Crown Princess)|
|Kealani||Clear sky (“white/clear” + “sky/heavens/highness”)|
|Leilani||Royal child; heavenly garland (“garland” + “sky/heavens/highness”)|
|Lilinoe||Fine rain or mist, and the name of a goddess of mist|
|Luana||To be at ease and live in pleasure|
|Mahealani||Night of the full moon (“hazy, as moonlight” + “sky/heavens/highness”)|
|Mahina||Moon, moonlight; also the name of the lunar deity|
|Maile||A native Hawaiian plant from which leis are made, which also represents four maile sister dieties|
|Malia||A Hawaiian form of Maria/Mary|
|Nalani||The heavens; the high chiefs (“plural article” + “sky/heavens/highness”)|
|Nanea||At ease, tranquil; to relax|
|Noelani||Heavenly mist (“mist” + “sky/heavens/highness”)|