More than boats have cute names
Have you ever been looking for something and then become distracted by finding something else that was totally unrelated to your original search?
Such was the case as I paged through John Clark's informative reference book, "Hawaii Place Names, Shores, Beaches and Surf Sites," looking for the history of a surf break on Maui.
As I found myself reading about a boat harbor, I learned what its Hawaiian name meant in English, and it occurred to me it was unlikely many veteran boaters here could translate the names of most of our island harbors.
For instance, the primary deep-draft harbor in the state we know as Honolulu. But how many boaters do you suppose know its English translation is "Protected Bay?"
Just to the east of that harbor is Keehi Lagoon where UH sailors and outrigger canoe paddlers race, and hundreds of boats are moored. Considering all of the industrial activity surrounding it and the adjacent airport, perhaps appropriately, its name means "Tread Upon."
Kewalo Basin -- located between Honolulu Harbor and the Ala Wai Harbor -- was first constructed by the U.S. Navy in 1945, but instead of an English name, they called it curiously "the Resounding" in Hawaiian.
The Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor, which is home to both the Waikiki and Hawaii yacht clubs, takes its name from the Ala Wai Canal that flows into it, which suitably means "Freshwater Path."
On the Windward side, even the members of the Kaneohe Yacht Club may not be aware that Kaneohe in English means "Bamboo Husband" and comes from a legend where a woman compared her husband's cruelty to the cutting edge of a bamboo knife.
The North Shore's Haleiwa Harbor has a literal translation of "Home of the Frigate Bird." But its figurative meaning, "Home of Attractive People," goes back to the late 1800s when a dormitory there for the Wailua Female Seminary was so named.
Oahu's Waianae Coast and its harbor can be translated to "Mullet Water" and Clark theorizes that it may come from the fact that many of the beaches there once had muliwai, or brackish pools where mullet were found.
Hale o Lono Harbor, where the Molokai-to-Oahu canoe races begin, isn't too difficult to decipher if you know that hale is "house," but then you've got to know that Lono was an ancient Hawaiian god to understand the full meaning of the name.
And, although Molokai's principal port is Kaunakakai, its name in English is "Beach Landing," which it was, prior to the harbor's construction in 1934.
Of course, after learning all this, I think it's safe to say that no one is going to start using the English translations any time soon.
Just imagine the reaction if a couple of fishermen heading out for a weekend try to tell their wives they will be launching their boat in Mullet Water and they'll end up in the Home of Attractive People.
is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu. His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com