Defining Identity

What's in a name? For Hawaiians, the answer could be "Everything."

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Exploring Hawaiian names for this story made me want to learn more about my own. I always thought that Kalehiaikealaikahiki (“the skillful fisherman on the pathway to Tahiti”) was fitting, given that my mother was in Tahiti when she discovered she was pregnant with me. But as I was about to learn, it wasn’t the whole story.

I began at the source: Hōkūlani Holt. Sitting across from the woman who had named me more than three decades earlier, I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Why, I wondered, did it take me this long to explore something so intimately woven into my life? Turns out, this meeting would redefine my personal history.

Around the time of my birth, my parents were involved with the Protect Kahoʻolawe ‘Ohana, an activist group fighting against the U.S. military occupation and bombing of the “Target Island.” Although access to Kahoʻolawe was prohibited, they would periodically land there by boat.

“We were all very involved in the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana, and that’s what came out during the initial discussion with your parents — the places that they loved and what they enjoyed doing,” Holt explains.

Among the areas they visited on Kahoʻolawe was Lae O Kealaikahiki (literally “the point of the pathway to Tahiti”). This westernmost tip of the island is said to be where thirteenth-century navigators departed to Tahiti, traveling along the Kealaikahiki Channel. Even today, it serves as a natural classroom for ocean navigators.

Holt adds, “During makahiki [an annual celebration of the Hawaiian god Lono], a small canoe is built, filled with hoʻokupu [offerings], and released into the Kealaikahiki Channel south towards Tahiti. Your dad was very involved with the making of the canoes.

“I chose Kealaikahiki as part of your name because this place was special to your parents,” says Holt. “Lehia [meaning skilled, as in fishing] was selected because the fishing is very good on Kahoʻolawe, and [there is a] fishing connection with your dad.”

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