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On Naming

Right after the 1893 overthrow of the self-governing communities in Hawai'i, the provisional government actively opposed the use of Hawaiian language in all public arenas. Hawaiian-language schools were cut off from government support. The new elites, the Euroamerican colonists, named streets, companies, parks, and public facilities after their friends and themselves.

The use of personal names to name places was unheard of in Hawai’i. Places used to be named after specific geographical features, plants, and/or actions. This process of naming recognized the importance of ever-changing personal relationships, stories and histories about each place.

The colonial process replaced this fluid system of naming that value actual experience with a static one that is much more suitable for turning land first into maps, and then private property. The territorial government did use some Hawaiian words in official names but they changed the procedure for designating meanings so much that these words ended up being just symbols.

After statehood in 1959, once the Hawaiian community no longer seemed to pose a threat, the use of imitation Hawaiian words for street names has become commonplace, in some cases even prescribed by law. While some people might consider this contemporary governmental use of Hawaiian words as a sign of respect for Natives, it is just another way of commercializing that very culture.

"Displacing Natives" Houston Wood. 1999
"Place Names of Hawaii" Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H Elbert and Esther T. Mookini. 1966