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Origins of Hawaii's Names

What we now call the state of Hawaii (Hawai'i) has several names and nicknames. The origins of some of them are known, while others can only be speculated. Here's what we've been able to pull together, easiest first!

The 50th State - Hawaii was admitted as the 50th of the United States of America on August 21, 1959. Alaska was admitted in January of the same year, which sometimes causes confusion as to which was admitted first.There are still some businesses in the islands with 49th or 49th state in their name, as Hawaii was expected to be admitted before Alaska. Fact is, though, that Alaska is #49 and Hawaii is #50. Another accident of timing is that although both were admitted in the same year, new flags had to be commissioned for each, because a new star was to be added on the 4th of July (Independence Day) following admission of a new state. Hence the the 49 star flag from July 4, 1959 to July 4, 1960, when the 50 star flag was adopted. More on Hawaii Statehood.

The Aloha State - this became Hawaii's official nickname upon passage of the first code of laws after statehood in 1959:

5-7 State popular name. The name "The Aloha State" is adopted, established, and designated as the official "popular" name for the State, to be effective so long as the legislature of the State does not otherwise provide. [L 1959, JR 1, 1; Supp, 14-5.1; HRS 5-7] See: HRS index of state symbols

There's no documentation to be found as to why this nickname was chosen, and it's unlikely there was much debate about it! Most residents would not question it or even consider something else to represent us. Aloha is a way of life in the islands, though some say it is disappearing. More: Spirit of Aloha, It's the Law!

Sandwich Islands - On his third voyage of discovery, Captain James Cook of Great Britain visited the Hawaiian Islands and named them the Sandwich Islands in honor of his friend and supporter, John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich and first lord of the Admiralty. Though Cook found Hawaii an excellent reprovisioning stop, it's not likely this included "sandwiches". More: Captain Cook.

Owhyhee - in places this name is defined as a Hawaiian word meaning homeland. In reality, it is the spelling that Captain Cook and other mariners wrote in their logs based on how their ears heard what the natives of the islands called them. It would later be written Hawaii. Since there was no written language in ancient Hawaii, either or neither might be "correct". Owhyhee is the name that is found on many drawings and paintings of the first European visitors, and is also found in much of the literature of the time. Owhyhee is the name of a region covering parts of Idaho, Oregon and Nevada. History of the region suggests:

The name, Owyhee, comes from early fur trappers. In 1819, three natives from Hawaii, part of Donald McKenzie's fur-trapping expedition, were sent to trap a large stream that emptied into the Snake River. When they did not return, McKenzie investigated and found one man murdered in camp and no sign of the others. The stream was named in their honor. "Owyhee" is an early spelling for the word Hawaii.

Owhyhee County, Idaho

Hawaii/Hawai'i - origins of this name seem to be controversial on their face, but actually do not contradict each other, at least in figurative interpretation.

What may be variations of the origin of the word Hawaii appear throughout the Pacific on many of the islands settled by Polynesians. The Maori of Aotearoa (New Zealand) refer to Hawaiki as their place of origin, which may be an actual place or may be the concept of origin, or both. It does not refer to the Hawaiian Islands, but it is likely that Hawaiki and Hawai'i come from the same word or concept. As Polynesians migrated throughout the Pacific, many of the same place names were used, either as a reference to where the first settlers came from or because the new land had similarities to the former home. Which leads to the other possible origin of Hawaii. One of the legends credits a fisherman named Hawaiiloa with the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. See: Origin of the word "Hawaii" discussion at the Hawaiian Storyteller's site (Uncle Charlie) and Polynesian Voyaging for more information.

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