Hawaiian Storm Names

hurricane iniki in a satellite image
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Did you know that the only way for a storm to get a Hawaiian name is if it forms within the boundaries of the Central Pacific?

The Central Pacific basin includes the area north of the equator, between 140-degrees west longitude and the International Date Line. Some of the more notable storms-turned-hurricane included Iwa and Iniki; notable because of the severe damage it caused to the Hawaiian Islands.

It just so happens, however, both Hawaiian names translate into meanings with negative connotations. Iwa means thief in Hawaiian, while Iniki means to nip or pierce. Sadly, that’s what they ended up doing to some extent or another when passing through the islands. Since then, the list of Hawaiian storm names has been updated to remove the ones with negative meanings. It should be noted that Native Hawaiian language professors worked with the NOAA in editing the list.

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Iniki is indelibly etched in my memory. During my second year residing in Hawaii, Iniki struck, and at that time, I served as a journalist for KGU Radio. I was dispatched to the island the day following the storm’s landfall. Upon arrival, I was met with a sight that defied belief: the Island of Kauai had been utterly devastated. For the following ten days, I collaborated with the radio station, local officials, and civil defense to facilitate the airlift of audio recordings from the residents back to Honolulu. This was the only means of communication available to broadcast their stories on the radio.

Like many cultures, Hawaiians believed that if you name something/someone, the meanings of those names will soon become apparent. An example of this would be if you named your child Kai; he or she will likely grow up with some ties to the ocean. Kai means ocean in Hawaiian. Using the Hawaiian language to name places and events is a means of preserving and celebrating the native culture of Hawaii. It ensures that the language remains an active part of daily life, which is essential for the survival of indigenous languages. For Native Hawaiians, the Hawaiian language is not just a means of communication; it’s a connection to their ancestral roots. Naming places and events in Hawaiian helps maintain this connection and reinforces their cultural identity. For local residents, using Hawaiian names can enhance their sense of belonging to Hawaii. It fosters a sense of pride in the local culture and identity.