How I Got My Hawaiian Name

Many people wonder what’s the story behind my Hawaiian name, or whether or not I made it up or named myself, or if I’ve changed it legally.

A beloved teacher of mine, a Kahu (in this case, Reverend) by the name of Papa David Kawika Ka’alakea, originally from Kipahulu, Maui, gave me the name Pono after I had been studying with him for a few years, back in the late 1990′s. He was the Po’o/head facilitator for the group “Kupuna La’au Lapa’au o Maui,” Ancestors’ Medicinal Plants of Maui. We met regularly and the group was mostly attended by Hawaiian elders who shared their knowledge or had passion and interest in preserving the traditions, as well as by Malihini (newcomers as well as transplants) and the occasional visitor passing through who wanted to learn about this precious Hawaiian healing art. It was an exciting time for me, as I was studying Hawaiian language as well, and there were Elders in the group who spoke Hawaiian, including Papa Ka’alakea. We enjoyed good fun impromptu Kanikapila (music jams,) with a lot of laughter and love, in addition to the sharing of each Kupuna’s own family traditions relevant to the plant being discussed on a particular evening, as well as examining the protocols associated with Hawaiian healing and the body-mind-spirit connections.

Papa and I had a good and open communication, always in Hawaiian, and it was always an honor to be welcomed into this sacred circle of Elders, where I was blessed to be befriended by several of them. We often spent time out of the context of the Medicine Plants group at social, spiritual or cultural events. I have fond memories of playing music at the “Jesus is the Way ” Church in Kihei, where Papa Ka’alakea was the minister, for example, and many Kupuna came to help bless my home for a big pa’ina (party) I had as a house warming for my new home, when my father was visiting. My Dad, Papa Ka’alakea, Auntie Helen ‘Ahia Walrath, Auntie Alice Kuloloio, Auntie Mahilani Poepoe and many other dear elders have passed, but the memory and their spirits live on. I shall be forever grateful for their sharing of wisdom and unconditional love.

Papa was known to give people Hawaiian names, and one night, after our gathering, we were speaking in Hawaiian together with Auntie Helen Ahia Walrath (a Kupuna Educator who only spoke Hawaiian with me as well.) Papa knew of my sincere desire to learn whatever I could and my serious study, as well as my genuine love for the Kupuna, and he gave me the name Pono right then and there. There are many translations for this word, such as ” Goodness, successful, virtuous, carefully executed, fair, just, proper, excellence, etc.” and is commonly translated into “Do what is right” and “Do the right thing.” Papa Ka’alakea gave me the name, I feel, because he believed I was indeed “Striving for excellence.” Goal, respect, motivation!

Pono is a name most Kama’aina (children of the land- those born here, with roots, connected to the land) recognize, thus a positive, strong, honorable name which I am humbled and proud to have received, and ever-challenged to live up to. My goal is to reflect the many blessings and knowledge shared with me back to our visitors, interpreting what we see to the best of my ability, and relevant to each guest’s interests. I wish to impart a cultural, historical, botanical, mythological, geological, musical, natural environmental and edible context to the scenery, so that our visitors leave enriched and understanding the story behind the landscape; there is indeed much to our islands besides the big resort hotels and beaches.

Everyone who has met me since that name was bestowed upon me has been introduced to me as and calls me Pono, and many who knew me prior now use my Hawaiian name rather than my English name. You may of course call me whatever you want; just don’t call me too early on Sunday morning!

P.S.– my name has not yet been entirely changed legally- it’s a work in progress!

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