Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog

Top Hawaiian Words and Meanings

a couple of people standing around a plane

As indigenous languages become increasingly scarce each year, their usage and history holds more meaning now than ever. Understanding a few Hawaiian words and meanings isn’t just fun trivia to know for a trip. It’s also a direct connection to the Hawaiian culture and history.

Thanks to films and the popularity of the Pacific paradise, many Hawaiian words have even made their way into English. You may recognize words like aloha, ohana, big kahuna, and mahalo. The state’s official fish is known to some as the Hawaiian Triggerfish, or Humuhumunukunukuapua`a, if you’re up for a tongue-twister.

If you’ve ever heard Hawaiian, you may have noticed repetitive patterns and similar sounds. That’s because the Hawaiian language has an alphabet consisting of five vowels and eight consonants: a total of 13 letters. The written language uses the English alphabet, adapted by Americans upon their first encounter with the language. How did this happen? Read on!

The history of Hawaiian words and meanings

Like many other languages from the Pacific islands, Hawaii began as oral tradition. Generations would pass on the language and stories to their children. However, there was no official guide to grammar or dictionaries. When Americans arrived on the islands in the early 1820s, they transcribed the language to create a written system for the Bible. Hawaiian remained the dominate language until Americans overthrew the monarch in the late 1800s. It was then that English became the primary means of communication. As a result, Hawaiian was sadly banned in the government and schools.

Fast-forward to 1978, when Hawaiian began to have a comeback when the State Constitution named it an official language alongside English. The government established immersion schools and greatly promoted use of the language across the islands. Although only approximately 2,000 native speakers remain today, Hawaiian has gradually seeped back into Hawaiian culture. On the isolated island of Niʻihau, residents speak Hawaiian as their primary language.

Here are a few of our favorite Hawaiian words and meanings to celebrate the great culture and people.

How to congratulate on the holidays

Hau‘oli lā ho‘omaika‘i – Happy Thanksgiving

Hau‘oli lā ho‘omana‘o – Happy Anniversary

Hau’oli lā Ho’omaha loa – Happy Retirement

Hau‘oli makahiki hou – Happy New Year

Mele Kalikimaka – Merry Christmas

Hawaiian words for nature

Mauka – Toward the mountains

Hāʻule Lau – Autumn

Moku – Island

Mahina – Moon

Moana – Ocean

Lani – Sky

Makai – Towards the sea


Holoholo (ride around) with us!

Words for friends and family

E Komo Mai, Hoaloha! – Welcome, friend!

Kumu – Teacher

Kupunas – Ancestors

Kuuipo – Sweetheart

Ohana – Family

Pu’uwai – Heart

Malihini – Newcomer, visitor

Other fun tidbits

Aloha ‘auinalā – Good afternoon

Aloha ‘Oe – Farewell

‘A’ole pilikia—No problem

Hele – Travel

Hō‘ike – Show [noun]

Holoholo – Ride around

Kulia i ka nu’u – Strive to reach the highest

Mālama – Preserve, protect

Maka – Eye

Makana – Gift

Manuahi – Free

Mau Loa – Forever

Wikiwiki – Fast

After you’ve brushed up on some Hawaiian words and meanings, hop onto a Pearl Harbor Warbird flight. 

Pearl Harbor Warbirds offers exclusive Hawaii flight adventures to relive a “Day of Infamy” from WWII. Our Admiral’s Warbird Adventure lets you suit up in authentic WWII era flight gear before jumping into the cockpit of an SNJ-5C. On this one hour flight around O‘ahu, you’ll trace the flight routes of the Japanese attackers.