Where did the baby name Keanu come from in 1990?

Actor Keanu Reeves as the character Ted in the movie "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989).
Keanu Reeves in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Keanu Reeves was born in Lebanon and raised mostly in Canada. But he has ties to Hawaii through his father, and this explains his Hawaiian first name.

What does “Keanu” mean? It’s made up of two Hawaiian words: ke, meaning “the,” and anu, meaning “cool,” “coolness,” or “cold.” So the name literally means “the coolness” or “the cold.”

You can see these two words together in various Hawaiian-language phrases. “Ua loa’a i ke anu” means “to catch a cold,” for instance, while “pi’i ke anu” means “to get chills.”

The name Keanu was used rarely in the U.S. — Hawaii included — until the release of the 1989 movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which co-starred Keanu Reeves as Ted (Theodore) Logan. The very next year, the name started appearing in the U.S. baby name data:

  • 1993: 102 baby boys and 13 baby girls named Keanu
  • 1992: 105 baby boys and 12 baby girls named Keanu
  • 1991: 71 baby boys and 15 baby girls named Keanu
  • 1990: 8 baby boys named Keanu [debut]
  • 1989: unlisted
  • 1988: unlisted

The highest usage so far was in 1995, right around the time the movie Speed (1994) was popular.

What are your thoughts on the name Keanu?

Source: Pukui, Mary Kawena and Samuel H. Elbert. Hawaiian Dictionary. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

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