Hawaiian names are given to remember historical events, ancestors, geographical features, and moʻolelo (stories/histories). These are commemorated in many ways like mele (songs), hula (dances), moʻolelo and inoa (names). A name given to a person or place to commemorate a certain event or to honor a certain chief was called an inoa hoʻomanaʻo- literally translating to "remembering name."
Genealogies were extremely important and central to identity whether related to ancestry or a genealogy of practice and play a central role in the naming process. Hawaiian knowledge was passed on orally from one generation to the next and from an early age, children were taught how to acquire and apply Hawaiian knowledge systems throughout their lives. These lived experiences were committed to memory and Hawaiian knowledge could be retrieved because of intimate relationships among people and place over time. Inoa kūpuna (ancestral names) are precious in Hawaiian culture and valuable for intergenerational connections which is why some Hawaiian children are given ancestral names to honor their ancestors.
Subsequently, inoa ʻāina (place names) were held in equally high regard. Often, inoa ʻāina act as inoa hoʻomanaʻo in the sense that the names are given to memorialize a certain chief or deity in Hawaiian or to remember important events from among the countless moʻolelo that are told. Other inoa ʻāina give insight into environmental features of the area such as climate, topography, or vegetation. The island of Nihoa (pictured here) in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, meaning toothed or jagged, is one such inoa ʻāina. It clearly paints a picture of the jagged, unstable terrain that makes up this island. The geographical features of Papahānaumokuākea have more recently been given names, however, there are ancient names for those places spread throughout mele and moʻolelo that have yet to be uncovered.
Photo: Brad Ka‘aleleo Wong/Office of Hawaiian Affairs