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How Did Hawaii Get Its Name?

Hawaii is an ancient and deeply spiritual place so unsurprisingly, the origin of its name is also shrouded in mystery.  This brief article explored three possible explanations of how the Hawaiian Islands got their name.  Although Captain Cook famously ‘discovered’ Hawaii, research proves that there is much more to the Hawaiian story than this commonly parroted narrative.

One popular theory suggests that the name Hawaii comes from the combination of words “Hawa” and “ii”.  Hawa means a traditional homeland, and ii means small and ranging.  Therefore, Hawaii means a small or new homeland.  Another plausible theory is that the tropical islands are named after the traditional discover of the islands, Hawaii Loa.

 Hawaii Loa was a Polynesian legend and hero who would roam the ocean during fishing excursions lasting months, sometimes an entire year.  The legend goes that Loas’ navigator was guided by a red star to the eastern most Hawaiian island.  Upon arriving, they found the land to be fertile and filled with coconut trees.  The lure of the magical islands were so great that they returned to Polynesia to collect their wives and children and return, as they preferred the Hawaiian Islands to their native homes.

 Upon Captain Cook’s arrival in 1778, he named the islands ‘The Sandwich Islands’, which was a short lived tribute to the Earl of Sandwich.  As the great Hawaiian diplomat, warrior and leader King Kamehameha I united the islands into a viable and recognized political entity in 1819, he renamed it ‘The Kingdom of Hawaii’.

Finally, a third theory claims that the name Hawaii comes from Hawaki, which was believed to be the home of the gods.  The actual location of Hawaki has never been confirmed however and it is uncertain whether it is a real physical island or a legend of mythology.  Hawaki is also believed to be the traditional home of the Polynesian people before they were migrated across the Pacific Ocean in open canoes. 

The mystery of how Hawaii came to be named adds to its magical charm.  With soft sandy beaches, lush tropical forests and a diverse mixture of friendly people, it remains a magical holiday destination.