The Hawaiian name Lehua (pronounced leh-HOO-ah) refers to the showy flower of the ‘ōhi’a lehua plant, Metrosideros polymorpha. The flower’s petals are very small, but its stamens are long and typically bright red.
The plant is endemic to the Hawaiian islands and has great cultural significance among Hawaiians. The word lehua refers not just to the flower, for instance, but also (figuratively) to various types of people: “warrior, beloved friend or relative, sweetheart, expert.” The plant even has its own creation myth: the goddess Pele created the plant by transforming human lovers Ohia and Lehua into the tree and the blossom, respectively.
This cultural importance no doubt stems from the plant’s ecological importance. The ‘ōhi’a lehua is a keystone species in Hawaii that’s often the first to colonize barren lava. The adaptations that allow for this include: year-round flowering, lightweight seeds, roots adept at growing vertically (i.e., in cracks and fissures), and the plant’s ability to close its stomata when volcanic gases are around — to hold its breath when the air turns toxic, in other words.
So Lehua, like other flower names, refers to an object of beauty…but this particular object of beauty is also a genuine symbol of concepts like resilience and adaptation. Which makes Lehua rather unique among flower names, I think.
What are your thoughts on the name Lehua?
(The photo is of a young ‘ōhi’a lehua inside the Kīlauea Iki pit crater, which my husband and I visited a few years ago on a trip to Hawaii. That particular lava flow happened in 1959.)
The U.S. National Park Service has a birthday coming up!
When the NPS was created on August 25, 1916, there were only 35 national parks and monuments. (The world’s first, Yellowstone, had been established in 1872.)
Nowadays the agency oversees 411 units. These units are located in the 50 states and beyond, and include national monuments (82), national historic sites (78), national parks (59), national historical parks (50), national memorials (30), national battlefields (11), national seashores (10), national lakeshores (4), national scenic trails (3), and more.
Let’s celebrate the upcoming centenary with over 100 baby names that pay tribute to the national parks specifically:
The derivation of Kenai is unknown, but it could come from either Dena’ina Athabascan (“big flat” or “two big flats and river cut-back” or “trees and brush in a swampy marsh”), Russian (“flat barren land”), or Iniut (“black bear”).
Earlier this month, my husband and I spent a week camping on the Big Island of Hawaii.
It’s not easy to find names to blog about while you’re traversing the still-steaming surface of a pit crater, but I did manage to spot a few names here and there. :)
We spent the first half of the trip in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Our campsite was located off Hilina Pali Road. Here’s the view:
Hilina, which immediately reminded me of Helena, seemed like it might be a name…but turns out it’s just a vocabulary word. In Hawaiian it means “struck (as by wind)” — which is appropriate, as the campsite was extremely windy. But hilina did help me discover Hilina’i on the SSA’s baby name list:
2012: 6 baby girls named Hilina’i (all born in Hawaii)
2011: 11 baby girls named Hilina’i (9 born in Hawaii)
2009: 5 baby girls named Hilina’i (all born in Hawaii)
2008: 7 baby girls named Hilina’i (all born in Hawaii) [debut]
Hilina’i means “to believe, trust; to lean on, rely on; trust, confidence” in Hawaiian.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is also where the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum is located. It’s named after geologist Thomas Augustus Jaggar (1871-1953), founder of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO).
One of the museum’s exhibits included three posters that were blown-up copies of pages taken from the old Volcano House hotel register. Each included at least one Hawaiian name. The longest list of names on display came from May, 1891:
These are the Hawaiian forenames I think I can make out:
The Hawaiian names on the other two posters were Mihana, I Kaia, and Pele-liilii. (Liilii isn’t part of the name, but means “small; little; diminutive; young.”)
Another exhibit included a short bio of Thomas Jaggar, and it mentioned that he’d invented an amphibious vehicle in the 1920s “for offshore lava flow observations.”
The vehicle’s name? ‘Ohiki, Hawaiian for “sand crab.”
We also did a lot of sightseeing outside the park. One of the places we visited was Rainbow Falls in Hilo, on the east side of the island. One of the plants there had graffiti all over the leaves. We weren’t able to see every name, but here are shots of “Silas + Sarah F.” and “Rachel + Jackson.”
The plant seemed healthy despite the vandalism, thankfully.
Something even cooler growing by the falls was this fantastic banyan tree. (That’s me hanging off the tree. Behind me is someone’s bicycle.)
Did you know that Banyan has been on the national baby name list for more than a decade now?
2013: 22 baby boys named Banyan [6 in Hawaii]
2012: 19 baby boys named Banyan [6 in California, 5 in Florida]
2011: 26 baby boys named Banyan [5 in California]
2010: 18 baby boys named Banyan [6 in California]
2009: 21 baby boys named Banyan
2008: 14 baby boys named Banyan
2007: 13 baby boys named Banyan
2006: 15 baby boys named Banyan
2005: 7 baby boys named Banyan
2004: 16 baby boys named Banyan
2003: 7 baby boys named Banyan
2002: 8 baby boys named Banyan
1996: 5 baby boys named Banyan [debut]
Banyan trees grow best in warm climates, so it doesn’t surprise me that usage of the name is highest in warmer states.
…And that’s it! So I’ll wrap up with this gratuitous shot of the black sand beach in Pololu Valley:
Have you ever been to the Big Island? Do you remember seeing/hearing any interesting names while there?