Talking Story

Lehua Parker

Lehua Parker is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. So far she has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, an author, a web designer, a mother, and a wife. Her debut novel, One Boy, No Water is the first book in her middle grade Niuhi Shark Adventure Series. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, four cats, two dogs, seven horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy Utah winters she dreams about the beach.

Writing is a reiterative process and creating the cover for a book is no different. The very talented Corey Egbert is the illustrator for the Niuhi Shark Saga and along with myself and the Jolly Fish Press team developed what eventually became the fantastic cover for One Boy, No Water. Surprisingly, our largest creative disagreement was over footwear.

Originally, Zader was going to be portrayed as wearing over-sized old-fashioned hip waders, the kind pineapple pickers used to wear. It’s not as odd as it sounds; it’s actually a plot point in the book. But when we saw the first draft, Christopher Loke, Executive Editor, didn’t like it. He thought it too clunky and wanted something more sleek and modern.

Corey’s next version was what Chris asked for, but I hated it. To my eye it was too girly. After some discussion, we decided to scrap the hip waders and a few other elements in our original design because we felt they were getting in the way of the emotion we wanted a potential reader to feel when he saw the cover.

Excited about the new direction, Chris asked, “What’s on Zader’s feet?”

“Slippahs or bare feet,” I said.

“On a reef?” He looked at me like I was crazy.

“It’s what kids wear,” I said.

“No, not Zader. It’s too dangerous for him to wear that. He wouldn’t do it.”

“He does in one part of the book,” said Kirk Cunningham, Head Publicist for Jolly Fish Press.

“Yeah, he does,” I said. “It’s in the climax.”

“No, it’s not right,” said Chris. “It’s not believable.”

We thought for a minute. I mentally flipped through images, trying to think of the kinds of footwear I’d seen around lava outcrops.

“What about deck shoes?” I asked.

“I LOVE deck shoes,” Chris exclaimed. “You mean the canvas-type shoes?”

“Deck shoes?” Corey asked.

“The kind from places like Landsend and LL Bean. I’ll send you some pictures,” I said.

“It’s deck shoes!” pronounced Chris, and we moved on.

But something about it bugged me and when I saw next draft, I realized why.

In Hawaii, I’ve never seen a local wear deck shoes to the beach or anywhere near water. It’s exclusively a tourist thing. The reason is simple: no matter how carefully you walk around reef, lava rocks, and the ocean, you’re still guaranteed to get your feet wet by either a rogue wave, bigger than expected splash, or unseen tide pool. In Hawaii, deck shoes, even the canvas ones, get ruined if they get ocean water in them—they never really dry out in the humidity and, well, can stink to high heaven if they’re worn again. Since you never, ever wear your shoes in a house in Hawaii (it’s considered very rude) the last thing you want to wear is stinky shoes you’ll have to take off in public.

I’m not sure why so many tourists wear them to the beach–if it’s because tourists get used to seeing these kinds of images in catalogs or because they think these kinds of shoes will protect their feet better or if they just wear shoes more often than locals–but our house was near a blow hole you could access by walking along lava rocks and tide pools and there wasn’t a day we didn’t see a tourist limping back to his car to nurse the blisters he got where the sand and saltwater’d rubbed his feet raw in his deck shoes.

As a local kid, Zader would never wear deck shoes on  a reef.

My hunch was confirmed when I showed the latest image to my kids and husband individually. After “wow” then very next thing each of them said was, “What’s he wearing on his feet?”

I decided I needed to bring up the footwear issue. Again.

JFP’s initial response was no, the deck shoes are great. Slippahs or bare feet would not be as elegant, especially with the heel toward the audience. But then the point was raised that one of our goals for the series was to be true to the local Hawaiian culture, even if that was counter-intuitive to the rest of the world. Corey was green-lighted to change it to slippahs.

I knew it was the right decision when I showed the final version of the cover to my Dad, Mr. Aloha himself, who’d never seen any of the other versions. The first thing he said wasn’t wow or that’s amazing or you’re going to sell a bazillion books with that cover. He said, “Oh, good. He’s in slippers.”

“Really, Dad? That’s the first thing you see? Fo’real?”

“The ghost shark thing is cool. Very sci-fi fantasy. It’s just that when you told me it was a reef scene I was a afraid he’d be in god-awful deck shoes or something.”

New press release for One Boy, No Water

For Immediate Release

Kirk Cunningham,
Head Publicist
(801) 380-4503



When old Uncle Kahana and his poi dog ‘Ilima find a newborn with a funny birthmark abandoned on a reef in Hawaii, he soon finds out just how special the child is: the boy is allergic to water. One drop on his skin and it’s like water on a white hot skillet; his allergies also make eating anything raw from the sea or rare meat impossible, which is simply absurd for an island dweller. Strangely, the boy’s peculiar allergies lead Uncle Kahana to believe this child is ‘ohana—family—and doesn’t have to work too hard to convince his niece and her family to adopt and give him a name—Alexander Kanoakai Westin, or “Zader” for short.

If only the rest of Zader’s life were so easy!

On the surface, despite his unusual allergies, Zader is an average eleven year old boy with typical challenges of fitting in with his peers, getting into a good prep school, and maintaining his relationship with his surfing crazed brother. In reality, Zader is Niuhi, a shark with the ability to turn into a person. As he matures and begins to adapt to his “allergies” in ways that make it easier to live a normal life, Zader’s world begins to turn upside down—he will not only have to come to terms with who he is, but what he is.

One Boy, No Water, Lehua Parker’s debut novel, is the first exciting installment in The Niuhi Shark Saga and is set to release September 29, 2012. Utilizing both Pidgin and English in her narrative, Parker accurately paints the vibrant culture and lifestyle of Hawaii, transporting her reader to the heart of the island where legend and tradition is as much a part of life as eating and drinking.

Parker, aka “Aunty Lehua,” is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. As an advocate of Hawaiian culture and literature, her writings often feature her island heritage and the unique Hawaiian Pidgin. So far, Parker has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, an author, a web designer, a mother, and a wife. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, five cats, two dogs, seven horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy winters she dreams about the beach.

One Boy, No Water is illustrated by award-winning illustrator, Corey Egbert.

For more details on One Boy, No Water, or to review the novel, please contact Kirk Cunningham at

Click here to visit the official site.

Title: One Boy, No Water
Author: Lehua Parker
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press, LLC
Trim: 5.5 in. x 8.5 in.
Format: Hardcover, Trade Paperback
Pages: 185
(HC) ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-2-6
(TPB) ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-7-1
(E-Book) ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-8-8
Retail Price:
(HC) $24.95
(TPB) $14.95
(E-Book) $7.99
Genre: Middle-Grade, Young Adult
Region: US, CAN, UK, AU
Distributor(s): Ingram
Publication Date: September 29, 2012

This book opens with a recurring fantasy of mine. A matronly woman comes to the door wanting to cook and clean for the family. All she wants in return is a place to stay and a little petty cash. Not only is she willing and able, she’s fantastic at all things domestic, her attention to detail exquisite, her emotional radar attuned to the slightest nuance of every member of the family.

The biggest drawback? She’s a murder, of course. But that was 42 years ago. Have you tasted her apple pie? Seriously, the whole murder thing seems so passé in comparison.

Meet Eleanor Ethel Rose, a complex women of simple tastes and pleasures and epic doses of motherly love. In Christopher Loke’s debut novel, The Housekeeper’s Son, we meet Eleanor and slowly strip away the layers of her story, much like peeling an apple and removing the flesh to make a pie. Eventually you’re left with the once hidden core of motives and facts lying naked on the cutting board, revealing ideas and planting seeds that challenge the reader’s understanding of what it means to be a good mother—and son. There’s no O. Henryish gimmick in the twist; the whole apple is there from the beginning. The reveal is a matter of what’s not said as much as what is—but to tell more would only spoil it. If you like mysteries and thrillers, you’re sure to find it entertaining.

Set in rural Utah, The Housekeeper’s Son, touches on but doesn’t fully explore some of the hot button issues in modern LDS culture/Mormonism today: homosexuality, child abuse, incest, neglect, depression, and, of course, murder. It’s an adult book with adult themes handled in oblique, non-graphic ways. While I enjoyed it thoroughly, I want to stress that it’s not for middle grade readers of One Boy, No Water or The Niuhi Shark Saga.

After reading The Housekeeper’s Son and then wandering through my kitchen filled with dusty light fixtures and uninspired ingredients, I still think I’d hire Eleanor Ethel Rose. After all, as the saying goes: if good friends bail you out of jail, but great friends help bury the body, then Eleanor’s in a class of her own.

The Housekeeper’s Son, written by Christopher Loke and published by Jolly Fish Press is available in hardback and eBook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other purveyors of fine literature.

Chris’s blog can be found at: A Writer’s Notebook,

For more information about Jolly Fish Press and its titles, please visit:

I was going through the drive-through in a place about as far away from the ocean as you can get when the voice through the speaker asked if I wanted it large-sized. I must have heard that question over a thousand times in my nefarious career as a drive-through junkie, but something about this time brought tingles of salt in sunburned creases and that special parchedness in the back of the throat that comes from a day spent body surfing at Bellows or Sherwood Forrest beaches on Oahu.

“So what part of Hawaii are you from?” I asked when I got to the window. She was young, barely out of high school, and by her expression you’d have thought I’d pulled a rabbit out of a hat.

“Uh, Honolulu,” she said, giving me the eye.

More like Papakoleʻa or Nanakule, I thought. But I understood. Honolulu’s easier.

She handed me my large drink. “How did you know?”

“Just something you said reminded me of home.”

She tilted her head, thinking back. Before we could speak more, there were other cars and customers, and the moment passed like so many random encounters do.

As the golden arches receded in the rearview mirror, the cold sweetness leapt from the straw to the back of my throat, cooling and soothing just like it used to after a day at the beach in Waimanalo. For a moment I was eighteen again, driving my old Camaro past the ironwood trees, windows down and damp towels on the seats, singing along to Kalapana on the radio while my sister dug through the glove box scrounging change so we could hit a drive-through and grab a soda for the long drive home around Makapuʻu Point. As I sipped, I could almost smell the ocean and taste the salt on the wind.

Pretty cool trick for a buck twenty-five paper cup of ice, sugar, and fizz.

We were in a big wholesale to the public store, you know, the kind with the cement floors and warehouse chic décor that sells everything from light bulbs to canapés in convenient packs of 60, when my son lugged over a 20 pound bag labeled Assorted Asian Rice Crackers.

“Hey, Mom! Didn’t you buy something like this the last time we were in Hawaii?”

I looked at the product through the bag. It was a little anemic to my eye. There weren’t very many squares stained a rich, dark shoyu brown or covered with black strips of nori. The fiery red chili pepper crescents were missing from the mix and so were the iso peanuts. There were a few with sesame seeds, and something that looked like wasabi peanuts, but later turned out to be rice puffs with a little wasabi seasoning, not anything like the blow your socks off and clear your sinuses for a week snacks I ate as a kid. There was also a disturbing number of almonds and plain peanuts in the mix and something about low sodium on the label.

Back when there was a crack seed store in every town in Hawaii, rice crackers came in a dazzling variety of textures, flavors, and crunch. There was an art to mixing them, each variety hand-selected and scooped measure by measure from large glass jars into paper sacks and weighed, combining sweet, salty, spicy, nutty, and crunchy into the perfect snack blend. We called it arare, kakimochi, or mochi crunch and packed it in school lunches, on summer fun excursions, and best of all, snuck it into movie theaters to mix in the popcorn tub with M&Ms or Milk Duds. Dipping your hand in the bucket while the movie played was a treasure hunt, the flavor combinations bold and unforgettable and often more entertaining than the movie, especially if someone’s handful had too many chili pepper crescents or wasabi peas and the straw was sucking more air than soda.

I looked at the bag of watered-down, Americanized snacks and smiled. “Toss it in the cart,” I said. “I think I saw a 90 pack of microwave popcorn next to a 10 pound bag of M&Ms on aisle 7.”

It’s easy for me to define my stance on the whole plastic coconut bra, cellophane grass shirts, and Aaaaloooooooohaaaa image of Hawaii sold by Hollywood and travel companies. It’s fantasy, escapism, romanticism—the equivalent of a bodice-ripper romance novel or cotton candy, a vacation from reality, not a reflection of it.

Living on the mainland (what people from Hawaii call the continental USA), I’ve endured the annual Hawaiian Days celebrations at our local grocery and burger joints, smiling a little too brightly as others gushed over what I knew to be paper flowers from South America and tiki-type masks from Africa and grooving to Caribbean reggae and Brazilian sambas. I’ve eaten platefuls of chicken bbq’d with pineapple and shoyu, worn plastic leis, and even taught a few basic hula moves at neighborhood luaus. Once for a friend’s daughter’s birthday party, I even busted out my ukulele and sang hapa-haole songs and taught little girls how to wear sarongs Hawaiian style.

I try to remember the point is to have fun, not an anthropology lesson. Bandanas, cowboy hats, and baked beans do not make something authentically western any more than pineapple on anything makes it Hawaiian.

I wasn’t always this way. Prickly in the way people are when they feel different from those around them, when they’re a little homesick and tired of living in a foreign environment, I once snapped at a little girl who breathlessly told me her favorite food was Hawaiian Haystacks—to my mind a truly vile layered concoction of chicken soup, shredded chicken, long grain rice, cheese, canned pineapple chunks, slivered almonds, shredded coconut, canned chow mein noodles, chopped green peppers, onions, tomatoes, celery—you get the idea. “There’s nothing Hawaiian about Hawaiian Haystacks,” I snarled, popping her balloon as surely as if I’d had a pin.

I regret that now. I know she was just trying to connect with me, a cranky adult who’d been unhappily and unwillingly pressured by other adults in ways too complicated to explain into making a presentation to a group of kids about Hawaii. She was earnest and sincere and I should have remembered my manners.

The last time I was in Hawaii I went as a teacher with privileged  6th, 7th,  and 8th graders from the mainland in tow. On our last day we stopped at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau on the Big Island, what the visitor’s bureau used to call the City of Refuge when I was their age. After a lecture, I let the students wander and found myself standing outside a grass hale, listening to a cultural demonstrator talk story with a tour bus driver as he put the finishing touches on a feather cape. Even though I looked as local as zinc oxide on a sunburn, when it became apparent I understood all the pidgin and Hawaiian, I was warmly welcomed into the conversation, and I learned so much.

He said it takes him about two years to finish a half cape, not counting all the work and time he puts into researching. He and the other cultural demonstrators spent a lot of time trying to rediscover how ancient Hawaiians made things as simple as twine, as glue, as tools. It was the common everyday things that were the hardest because at one time everyone knew how to make them until suddenly they didn’t. As our conversation ranged from origin stories to metal working to pan-pacific cultures, he said something I don’t think I will ever forget. He said that Hawaiians decided long ago that in order to preserve their culture, they would have to share it; teach everybody who wanted to learn, especially now when there is a revival of Hawaiian culture and pride in the islands and generations of people who feel Hawaiian in spirit, if not blood.

Which brings me to the real reason I started this ramble: Paul Theroux’s Quest to Define Hawaii, an article published in The Smithsonian and on There is much in this article to raise any local islander’s hackles, let alone a Hawaiian’s, and I won’t go into it all of it here.

Theroux’s a travel writer who has owned property in Hawaii for years and felt rebuffed in his attempts to learn about Hawaiian culture for his articles. He makes some startling assumptions and truly clueless blunders as he goes about trying to gather his information, mainly in his arrogant belief that because he, a big-shot credentialed writer asked politely, ethnic Hawaiians should’ve been overjoyed to tell him the most personal and sacred parts of their lives. His article focuses on how unhelpful people were, and he spins a bunch of shibai about what he believes the reasons are for this, reasons that he and other newbies to Hawaii have quickly clamored define the real Hawaii.

Talk about wop’yo’jaws arrogance. It would’ve been hilarious, something I rolled my eyes over and ignored except The Smithsonian published it, giving it a scholarly whiff it doesn’t deserve.

Here’s the real deal: Yes, ethnic Hawaiians can be prickly when it comes to our culture. After dealing with decades of Hollywood and the travel industry’s spin, of years of waitresses hustling to bring tourists umbrella drinks and listening as they pontificate about how laid back and easy it is in Hawaii, blissfully unaware that their waitress probably holds two or more jobs to make ends meet, of entrepreneurs spinning fantasies about our way of life, our language, our history—we get a little wary and not a little pissed when someone’s nose pokes into our business not out of a desire to learn, to understand, to connect, but to make a buck. Through the article it appears that Theroux’s main attempts to integrate or understand local culture was solely in conjunction with his work as a writer, not as a neighbor, regardless of how long he’s owned property in Hawaii.

And that’s the crux: in Hawaiian culture humility and a willingness to listen before you speak, to share without expectation of quid pro quo is paramount. Anything that smacks of entitlement or arrogance or of wanting to use knowledge freely given to make money is going to end badly.

I’m considering sending Paul Theroux, world renown travel writer and Hawaiian property owner, the Hawaiian Haystacks recipe. It’s as close to real Hawaiian culture as he’s going to get.

crackseed-kaimukiAs a kid growing up in Hawaii, it was a big deal to go to the crack seed store. We’d scrounge a few pennies, nickels, and dimes from under the couch cushions, the ashtrays in the car, and the top of Dad’s dresser and beg for rides into town. Crack seed is what we called any kind of dried, pickled, or preserved fruit. We loved it better than candy.

Brought to Hawaii by thrifty Cantonese immigrants who worked on pineapple and sugar plantations, most crack seed was originally made from fruit scraps. Peels like lemon or mango or the pits of fruit like apricots or plums with just a scrap of deliciousness clinging to them were seasoned and preserved. First fished out of jars and later plastic packets, the flavors burst in your mouth: li hing mui, lemon peel, rock salt plum, dried mango, candied shredded ginger—salty, tart, spicy, sweet, wet, or dry. Every shop and family had their own secret recipes and flavors, and unlike candy, a little crack seed went a long way. A single lemon peel would last days because you ripped it into pinkie-nail-sized pieces and kept it in your mouth forever—the best thing for a sore throat.

When I was a kid the Yick Lung crack seed brand was king. We’d even tell jokes about it: Did you hear what Yick Lung’s class voted him? Most likely to suck-seed. (Hilarious when you’re 10, trust me.) Just watching the ads for it on Checkers and Pogo, Hawaii’s afterschool version of Captain Kangaroo, would make my mouth water. My hands-down favorite was rock salt plum. Every Christmas I’d find a bag in the toe of my stocking that I would hoard through January, savoring each piece, sucking all the goodness from each one until only a flavorless pit was left. It was the perfect book-reading snack.

Sadly, Yick Lung, a family-owned business started in the early 1900s, filed for bankruptcy in the mid-1990s, and while other crack seed and Hawaiian snack brands quickly filled the void, they aren’t the same. Disappointed, but undaunted, I’m still sampling them all, trying to replicate that wet, sweet, salty memory from the bottom of a Christmas stocking.

On Hawaiian playgrounds and beaches it’s common to hear Moms calling for little Kalani, Pua, or Lei, but usually you’re only hearing part of the story. Kids with Hawaiian names are often called by nicknames formed out of shorten versions of their full Hawaiian names. Most full Hawaiian names are unique to that individual; children are rarely named after someone else, and names are not borrowed from a lineage outside one’s own—at least not without specific permission.

Unlike Western names which tend to be a single or compound word, most Hawaiian names are much longer, combining at least a noun and adjective to convey a complete thought or idea. Phrases and even complete sentences as names are not unheard of, and in modern times when few speak Hawaiian, names are sometimes lifted from Hawaiian translations of the Bible or from well-loved songs and poems.

Traditionally, giving a child a Hawaiian name requires much prayer, reflection, and consultation with elders. Rather than simply choosing a name themselves, it’s not uncommon for parents to receive a name as a gift from a grandparent or other respected family member. Parents who break with protocol and tradition do so at a risk: I’ve had two cousins whose birth certificates had to be changed because an elder later said they were given the wrong Hawaiian name. Everyone tsk-tsk’d that the parents didn’t know what they were doing when they chose Hawaiian middle names based on the idea that they “sounded good” with the first names they’d picked.

Being asked to name a child is an honor that people take very seriously. Birth names are powerful and often express qualities hoped for or seen in a child. Once a name is needed, the entire ‘ohana starts looking for signs and inspiration. True Hawaiian names reveal themselves in many ways.

Inoa po: name in the night; a name received in a dream.

Inoa hoʻailona: name in a sign; a name received in the form of a vision or natural phenomenon

Inoa ‘ulaleo: voiced name; a name heard

Inoa ho’omanao: name that commemorates a person or event

Inoa kupuna: name that is handed down, an ancestral name

Inoa ewe: name that is based on traits or personality

I’m often startled at how aptly a traditionally given Hawaiian birth name fits the recipient, both the literal and figurative translations. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of the name fitting the child or the child adapting to the name, but time after time and in the most unlikely ways, the names fit.

There’s an added plus to having a Hawaiian middle name—no matter where you go outside of Hawaii, you’re guaranteed to have the longest, coolest middle name in any group, even if no one but your family can say it.

Return to Exile, the first book of The Hunter Chronicles  by E.J. Patten, tells the remarkable story of Sky Weathers and the secrets surrounding his birth that continue to haunt his nearly 12-year-old life. Constantly moving, his family never staying long enough to become part of a community, Sky is an experienced outsider with no close friends except his odd Uncle Phineas. Under his tutelage, Sky has learned all about puzzles, traps, and hunting—hunting monsters, that is. As the story opens, Sky has almost convinced himself that all of his Uncle’s fantastical stories are really just an extreme form of pretend, imagination gone wild, and nothing more.

After 11 years of wandering, the Weathers family returns to their hometown of Exile with the expectation of finally settling down. When Uncle Phineas misses a scheduled rendezvous, everyone gets little edgy. Worried about Phineas and unable to resist exploring ancestral homelands, Sky embarks on a series of adventures that leads him to discovering who he is, his mysterious past, and the high stakes reason behind all of Phineas’ deadly serious games.

Patten has a lot of story and backstory to tell in this book, a horde of characters to introduce, and oodles of detail about monsters and the mayhem they cause. In his world, magic and monsters are not a matter of hocus-pocus, but rather science that’s not fully understood. For readers who love the minutiae and fine print of an imaginary world, there’s a lot here to chew on. Much of the plot hinges on the workings of monsters and hunters and how all the pieces fit—or seem to fit—together.

It’s obvious that Patten loves puzzles and games in all their forms including word play. He delights in turning phrases on their heads. His characters are witty, and the narrative is polished, perhaps a tad too highly. Occasionally the banter and action feel contrived, taking the reader out of the storyline and action simply to be clever. However, it’s likely that only adults with too much literary critique baggage will feel this way; young readers will likely be swept up in the richness of Sky’s journey and will enjoy the winks and laughs along the way.

Return to Exile is appropriate for those eight and older who can read near a 5th grade level or higher. While it’s easy to see how this action-packed fantasy appeals to boys, girls will also enjoy getting to know Sky and his monster hunter friends. Readers who liked The Hobbit, the Percy Jackson books, and Fablehaven series will find similarities here. The pacing and humor is certain to keep even reluctant young readers engaged and looking forward to the second book in the series.

Return to Exile, Snare 1 of The Hunter Chronicles is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, authored by E.J. Patten, and beautifully illustrated by John Rocco. It can be ordered or purchased as an eBook or in hardback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as wherever fine books are sold.

In Hawaii, teachers never ask children to write their full names. There are never enough lines on the paper or time in the day. The reasons for this go back to naming traditions and an unusual law once on Hawaii’s books.

Wanting Hawaii to be more like the west, in 1860 King Kamehameha IV signed the Act to Regulate Names. From 1860 to 1967, all people born in Hawaii were required by law to have a family surname and an English first name, which explains why Robert, William, Mary, and Sarah started popping up in Kamakawiwaole, Asao, and Chung family trees in the nineteenth century.

Because of the naming law it became common in Hawaii’s mixed plate melting pot to give kids a middle name from each branch of the family tree. At a christening the kahu wouldn’t even blink at pronouncing an infant Joseph Makanani Atsushi Manchu Pacheco, except maybe to ask the parents if Makanani was little Joe’s entire Hawaiian name.

Most likely it wasn’t. On birth certificates, parents often list just part of a Hawaiian name, although this trend is changing. For example, my son’s middle name is list as Kalani on his birth certificate, but his full Hawaiian name is Ka Ikaika Mai O Ka Lani Wai. Despite its appearance, in comparison with the Hawaiian names my classmates have given their kids, it’s really only average in length.

As a language, Hawaiian is highly poetic and idiosyncratic. What’s translated literally is frequently not the whole story. Given the ancient Hawaiians’ love of puns and riddles, it’s not surprising that most Hawaiian names have a simple overt translation like “beautiful flower” along with a host of hidden and layered meanings. Because of this, the general rule of thumb for Hawaiian names is that the true meaning of a name is whatever the giver or owner say it is, regardless of grammar or literal translation.

In ancient Hawaii, names were precious and powerful, and true birth names were not shared casually. Families called children the equivalent of Stinky, Worthless, Ugly, or Wretched (and worse) to make them unappealing to evil spirits and others who might snatch a prized child. As Hawaiian faded from common daily use, these names lost their meaning and became…well, names. Sometimes these kinds of family nicknames were the only ones recorded or remembered, raising eyebrows when modern genealogists start translating.

Throughout their lives Hawaiians changed their names to commemorate deeds, abilities, or desires and were frequently called different names by family members, close friends, and co-workers. I can imagine the hair-pulling frustration of his majesty’s census keeper as he tried to maintain records in an era where there were no surnames and people changed names on a whim.

Ironically, the English first name/family surname only standardized things on paper. With so many Georges, Johns, and Ruths running around, kids were often called by a nickname or middle name, which made the first day of a new school year particularly fun when you discovered Kawika was really Aloysius or Bartholomew.

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When you’re allergic to water,
growing up in Hawaii
isn’t always paradise.

With Niuhi sharks,
even out of the water,
you’re not safe.

Everything you thought you knew
about Zader is a  lie.