Defining Identity

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


When I asked my father about those connections, he shared this story.

“Before you were born, we were at Kahoʻolawe for makahiki ceremonies. One of the guys went diving for fish, and you could tell he was proud when he came out of the water with a full line. A little while later, Rell Sunn [surfing champion and pioneer waterwoman] comes out with even more fish — blew him out of the water. I saw that, and I thought, she’s doing everything the guys are doing, and doing it better. I told myself, ‘My daughter can be like that, too.’”

Although I only recently learned the story of Rell Sunn and the fish, her story and mine have intertwined. I grew up with a taste for adventure, and the belief that I could do anything I set my mind to — from backpacking alone through Europe and Southeast Asia to competing in triathlons, a sport whose participants are mostly men.

But what of the story about my mother paddling in Tahiti while pregnant with me?

“When I told your mom about your name and its significance with Kahoʻolawe, she remembered the Tahiti connection,” explains Holt. “It didn’t factor into my choosing your name, but I often believe that when we discover things [after the fact], it’s because the inspiration came before. It’s like your kūpuna[ancestors] put it in my head that there is a connection.”

Throughout this process, I wondered why my parents never told me the kaona of my name and its connections with Kahoʻolawe. In part, it’s because I never asked.

Adds Holt, “I think that the name bearer has to be at a place in their life to hear the story. Even if you were told the story when you were twelve, you probably don’t remember because it wasn’t an important part of your thinking. Now, when you are ready to absorb all that is in the name, it has greater meaning for you.”

Indeed, one’s Hawaiian name exists also in the memories those words carry. While this experience has opened my heart and deepened my appreciation for my name, I also understand that this is not where my journey ends.



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