While there are several websites that supposedly offer lists of Hawaiian names and their meanings, most of the time these sites are simply copying material out of books, and at worst they offer only what random people have suggested as names and their meanings. In fact, many references will merely give you transliterations of English names in the Hawaiian alphabet: Kakalina for Katherine, Maka for Mark, Melia for Mary.

In addition, people often choose random Hawaiian words as names, without understanding the deeper cultural context of how names are chosen in Hawaii, and why a random Hawaiian noun would be improper or even offensive if used as a proper name.

Finally, many native Hawaiians are uncomfortable with non-Hawaiians bestowing Hawaiian names on their children. Indeed, in traditional Hawaiian culture, the naming of a child is a significant act, and both the meaning behind the name and the connection of person who bestows it are important.

Hawaiian names are surely beautiful, and if a name has meaning to you, perhaps that’s what matters most. Even so, taking time to do some research will be extremely rewarding. We strongly recommend referencing a book like “Hawaiian Names—English Names,” which will give you genuine Hawaiian names and their meanings, as well as give you the tools you need to understand what different parts of a Hawaiian word or name might mean and how they fit together.

Here’s an excerpt from the book description:

Today most people choose a name because “it sounds nice”. In ancient Hawaii, and indeed in most traditional societies a name involved more than its sound. A name (inoa) was a possession, an influence for good or evil and perhaps a part of a societies history. Ones inoa was a precious personal possession and also a force in its own right. Although a person possessed his or her name, he or she was also possessed by the name. Once spoken, the inoa assumed a mystical existence and the power to help or harm the bearer. And, so went the belief, the more a name was spoken, the more powerful it came, and the more powerful the influence – good or evil.

The author writes:

I became interested in the subject of Hawaiian names because the question “Do you have a book about Hawaiian names?” is asked repeatedly at the public library. A little research revealed that was available consisted mostly of lists of Hawaiinized-English names. These names seemed an insult to the Hawaiian language and at times were even an insult to the person who had ‘Hawaiinized’ his or her English name.