Many Hawaiian names sound almost like lullabies: They have beautiful cadence and flow, rolling off the tongue in a melody of vowels and syllables. In addition to their sweet sounds, Hawaiian names also carry powerful depth and meaning.
“Naming children, places and objects is important since a name carries mana [the spiritual energy of power], along with the hopes and dreams of family members,” explains David J. Wallace — better known by the honorific Kahu Dave — who is a native Hawaiian healer and author. “Names can serve as protection from evil or illness, and remind us of who we are and our purpose in life.”
The meaning behind Hawaiian baby names
Most Hawaiian names, Kahu Dave explains, describe things in the natural world. “These metaphors have multiple meanings, known as kauna, that can change over time, revealing themselves at different stages of a person’s life,” he says.
Elements of nature are frequently used in Hawaiian baby names include ocean (Kai), heaven (Lani), mountains (Mauna/Pu’u), water (Kawai) and many more.
“Each element or combination of elements will create a story and new meanings to the new word,” he says. “For example, by pairing Kawai (water) with Lani (heaven) we create the name Kawailani.”
Kahu Dave explains that Hawaiian names carry the hopes and dreams of parents and ancestors. “It tells a story, like a hula, with its imagery and hidden meanings that change over time,” he says. “Since there is so much meaning to a Hawaiian name, being able to share the story behind your name helps you connect to your ancestors as you prepare yourself for the future.”
Cultural sensitivity and Hawaiian baby names
For all the transporting beauty and symbolism behind Hawaiian names, do be mindful of sensitivities if you choose to give your baby any name outside of your own culture.
“Name appropriation is a form of cultural appropriation and is something for white parents to consider when naming their children,” notes Jennifer Moss, the founder and CEO of BabyNames.com and one of the country’s foremost baby name experts.
“It is considered offensive for Caucasian parents to use baby names from cultures that were oppressed, slaughtered or exploited by white people, which includes indigenous Hawaiians,” she says. “It’s especially egregious to use names of royalty, tribes or revered persons in a particular culture.”
If non-Hawaiians want an inoffensive Hawaiian-sounding name, the best, most respectful option is to use names created from western names, Kahu Dave explains. (See examples of these in our list below.)
To help inspire your Hawaiian baby name search, we sourced ideas from our experts, as well as scoured baby names websites to come up with our own curated list of 51 beautiful and unique Hawaiian baby names.
Hawaiian baby names created from western names
- Kawika (kah-WEE-kah) is a Hawaiian form of David. David is an English name derived from the Old Hebrew name “Dodaveha,” which means “beloved of Yahweh.”
- Keoki (kee-OH-kee) is a Hawaiian form of George. It means “alive.”
- Kaniela (KaaN-iyEHL-AH) is a unisex Hawaiian version of name Daniel or Daniela. It means “only god is my judge.”
- Kiana (key-AN-ah) is the Hawaiian version of Danianne or Diana. It means “divine.”
- Mele (MEH-leh) is the Hawaiian equivalent of Maria or Mary, which comes from the Hebrew name Miryam. Multiple meanings exist, including “wished for child” or “rebellious.”
- Mikaela (mah-KAY-lə) is the Hawaiian version of the Hebrew name Michelle, meaning “who resembles God.”
- Peni (PEH-nee) is a Hawaiian derivative of Ben.
Popular and trending Hawaiian baby names
- Kai (KY) is a unisex name (currently more popular for boys) meaning sea. Famous Kais include actor Kai Owen and surfer Kai Lenny. It currently stands ranks as 93rd most popular name in the U.S., according to the Social Security Administration.
- Kaia (KI-uh) is a Hawaiian girl’s name that means “sea.” It currently ranks as the 302nd most popular U.S. name, shared by celebs like Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber.
- Kaimana (KIE-mah-nah) is a unisex name (more popular for boys) meaning “power of the sea.” In recent years, it has ranked among the top 100 most popular boy’s names in the state. (It’s also the name of a beach in Honolulu.)
- Kanye (CON-yah) — same spelling as the rapper Kanye West — is a Hawaiian boys’ name meaning “free.” The name Kanye was most popular in 2004.
- Keanu (kay-AH-noo) means “cool breeze over the mountains.” (This name has fallen within the top 1,000 American baby names for decades, and peaked in 2020 — the year Keanu Reeves started filming “The Matrix 4.”)
- Moana (MOH-ah-na) means ocean or sea. It peaked around the 1,500th most popular name in 2017, the year after the release of the Disney movie about the intrepid daughter of a village chief who becomes one herself.
Hawaiian names for girls
- Iolana (ee-oh-lahn-ah) means “soaring like a hawk.”
- Leilani (LAY-la-knee) is a traditional Hawaiian name meaning “heavenly flower.”
- Kaena (KAY-ah-na) means “praised” and is also the name of the westernmost point of the island of Oahu.
- Kakalina (kah-ka-LEE-nah) comes from the name Katherine. It means “chaste and pure.”
- Kamaka (kah-MAH-kah) is a unisex name (more commonly given to girls) meaning “child” or “eyes.” It’s also the name of an island in French Polynesia.
- Kulani (koo-LAH-nee) means “rising towards heaven.”
- Halia (ha-LEE-a) means “remembrance of a loved one.”
- Leimomi (LAY-moh-mee) means “daughter of pearls.”
- Malana (Mah-LAY-na) comes from the Polynesian and means “calming, relaxing.”
- Mahaelani (mah-heh-LAH-nee) means “dive mist.”
- Makana (mah-KAH-nah) means “gift” or “gift from god.”
- Noelani (noeh-LAH-nee) means “heavenly mist.” It comes from the name Noel, which is Latin for “born on Christmas.”
- Ona (OH-nuh) means “sweetness.”
- Waiola (WIE-oh-lah) is a Hawaiian version of Viola, from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, meaning “violet flower.”
Hawaiian names for boys
- Akamu (UH-ku-mah) means “of the earth.”
- Akoni (ah-KOW-Niy) is frequently used in Hawaii, but it comes from Latin. It’s a variant form of the English name Anthony.
- Ekewaka (eh-keh-WAH-kah) means “protector or guardian of riches or wealth.”
- Kaipo (KAI-po) is a unisex name (more popular for boys) that means “sweetheart.” Kaepo, Kapo and Kaypo are all variations.
- Kale (k-ALE) is pronounced just like the vegetable. It means “man.”
- Keon (KEY-on) comes from the Hebrew word for John. It means “God is gracious.”
- Liko (LEE-co) means “bud,” like the burgeoning flower.
- Nohea (NOH-eh-ah) is a commonly given name meaning “lovely” or “handsome.”
- Ori (OR-ee) means “my light.”
- Tua (TOO-ah) is a Polynesian name meaning “behind or at the back.”
- Uluwehi (oo-loo-WEH-hee) conjures lushness and earthiness, meaning “flourishing plants.”
Unisex Hawaiian names
- Akela (ah-KEH-lah) is the Hawaiian version of Adela and Asher. It means “graceful and noble.”
- Aloha (ah-LO-hah), the one word that evokes Hawaii above all others, is a unisex name meaning “loving or kindhearted.”
- Kahula (kah-HOO-lah) is an older name that means “dancing.”
- Kalua (kah-LOO-ah) could be an ideal pick for a second baby’s name — since the name translates to “the second child.”
- Kawai (kah-WIE) means “coming from water.”
- Keao (keh-AH-oh) means “the light of day.”
- Lanakila (lah-nah-KEE-lah) means “victory.”
- Leialoha (LAY-ah-loh-hah) means “darling child.”
- Lilo (LEE-low), the name of the main character in Disney’s popular “Lilo & Stitch” movie, means “one who is generous.”
- Lono (LOH-noh) comes from the name of the Hawaiian god of agriculture and rainfall.
- Makani (mah-KAH-nee) is a traditional Hawaiian name meaning “wind.”
- Moani (moh-AH-nee) is a unisex name (currently more popular for girls) meaning “breezes of scent.”
- Ulani (uw-LAW-Niy) means “cheerful.”