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Whatʻs in a Name (The power of Inoa)


We are all given a name when we come into this realm. Our name has mana – power/energy. In some languages our names have a meaning and are given to us to embody that meaning. In the culture of Hawai’i, names have meaning and power behind them. Names can be a family name, come to one of your family members in a dream or earned through your hula family.

I am fortunate to have been gifted four (4) names. One by my mother, one that connects me to my ancestors and two which were given to me by two different Kumu Hula (hula masters). My names each have a meaning and my goal is to embody each of those meanings. Our names connect us to the person who gave them to us and who we are named after. For example I am named after an ancestor which required special approval. My names are also a reminder of the wishes for the person who I will become and a reminder of the person who I am.

Growing up, we were taught that each time we say a name (whether our ancestors, our chiefs/royalty or our own) they are able to live again. We breath life into the meaning behind the inoa (name) given. We honor the spirit and intent in which the name was given as well as honoring the giver of the name (whether it be a family member or kumu hula).

In this fast paced, technological world it is easy to IM, text or reply to an email without acknowledging the person’s name. We may forget, we may not think it’s important or we may just be focused on responding to the question/message at hand. It may seem insignificant, or easily noted that “the person knows I am talking to them”. I offer the following perspective. If saying someone’s name breaths life into the meaning behind it, not saying someone’s name negates that mana. It negates their existence. In essence, we are saying mana ‘ole – no spirit/energy/power. Recent campaigns noting “say their name(s)” acknowledge that names have a spirit that is not to be forgotten. They encourage us to continue to say a person’s name so that they are not forgotten, so that they can remain with us in spirit and so that they can continue to live in our memories.

The same is said of locations and sites of Hawai’i. We know locations such as Diamond Head but our kūpuna called it Lēʻahi. Calling it by itʻs traditional name honors the moʻolelo of this place, how our kūpuna saw this place. It is also a connection to our kūpna because we are saying the names they said, seeing the places that they saw.

Similarly, acknowledging someone by their name respects them as a person and values their existence in this realm. I read that “we are the answers to our ancestors prayers”. I truly believe that part of our link to our kūpuna is our name. Our name (whether a family name or not) tie us to our heritage; our lineage. This is why when I start a message (text, email or instant message) I acknowledge the person – Aloha (Name), Mahalo for your email (Name). I have always said that each person deserves a base level of respect becuase they are a fellow human being; acknowleding them by name is part of that base respect.

Something as simple as saying someoneʻs name becomes a very powerful act. It develops respect, it breathes life into the meaning of their name and most of all it breaths them into existence. We want to live up to our name; and each time our name is said is an opportuntiy for us to do so.


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