Categorized | News

What’s in a name? Hawaii, The Big Island


It may seem a subtle change, but tourism officials are changing the way they refer to Hawaii’s Big Island and returning to the island’s Hawaiian name, Hawaii.

To avoid confusion with the state name, everyone is encouraged to use Hawaii Island when referring to the island.

A new logo is being unveiled in 2011, and it clearly shows Hawaii as the defining island name.

But how did this identity challenge begin? In a mele hanau, (a birthing song), passed down through generations of Native Hawaiians, the island is named Hawaii:

Ua hanau ka moku
A kupu, a lau, a loa, a ao, a muo
Ka moku i luna o Hawaii

Born was the island
It budded, it leafed, it grew, it was green
The island blossomed on the tip
It was Hawaii

The neighbor islands of Oahu, Maui, Lanai, Kauai, Molokai, Kahoolawe and Niihau were also independently named by early Hawaiians. But when King Kamehameha the Great, who hailed from Hawaii Island, unified all of the islands under his rule in 1810, the Kingdom of Hawaii was established and it encompassed all the islands.

When the Kingdom was overthrown in 1893, and the Territory of Hawaii was established, followed by Statehood, Hawaii became the name for the entire chain of islands located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“Our name is Hawaii,” says Big Island Visitors Bureau Executive Director George Applegate. “We’ve used the nickname, ‘Big Island,’ for the last 25 years to distinguish Hawaii, the island from Hawaii, the state. Identifying our island by nickname has not always set well with many people who live, work and play here. The nickname has confused some visitors, who think the ‘Big Island’ means ‘big city,’ and mistake Hawaii Island for Oahu, home to the state capital of Honolulu.

Moving forward, Applegate said, “We will introduce the island as Hawaii Island.”

But big is a fitting nickname when describing the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. At 4,028 square miles, Hawaii, the Big Island (another way the visitor industry will refer to the island) is almost twice the size of Delaware (2,490 square miles), and all the other Hawaiian Islands (2,384 square miles, combined) could fit inside its mass nearly twice.

Maunaloa (13,677 feet above sea level) and Maunakea (13,796 feet above sea level) are considered earth’s most massive and tallest mountains, respectively.

Measure Maunaloa from its base on the sea floor, and the volcanic mountain measures 30,077 feet!

Hawaii Island is so large it has five national parks, including the World Heritage Site, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“We live up to our nickname and don’t plan to abandon it, yet our island’s proper name, Hawaii, is so special. What a simple yet profound way to honor our host culture,” Applegate said.

For more information on Hawaii Island, please visit

One Response to “What’s in a name? Hawaii, The Big Island”

  1. Leilehua says:

    Mahalo nui loa to all those who help preserve and perpetuate our culture through the correct use of place names!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.