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Hawaii's Big Island Changes Name

July 19, 2011 By: Jena Tesse Fox

It may seem a subtle change, but tourism officials are changing the way they refer to Hawaii’s Big Island and returning to the island’s Hawaiian name, Hawaii. To avoid confusion with the state name, everyone is encouraged to use Hawaii Island when referring to the island. A new logo will be unveiled later this year, which will clearly depict Hawaii as the defining island name.

But how did this identity challenge begin? In a mele hanau, (a birthing song), passed down through generations of Native Hawaiians, the island is specifically named Hawaii:

Ua hanau ka moku
A kupu, a lau, a loa, a ao, a muo
Ka moku i luna o Hawaii

Born was the island
It budded, it leafed, it grew, it was green
The island blossomed on the tip
It was Hawaii

“Our name is Hawaii,” says Big Island Visitors Bureau Executive Director George Applegate. “We’ve used the nickname, ‘Big Island,’ for the last 25 years to distinguish Hawaii, the island, from Hawaii, the state. The ‘Big Island’ nickname has since become part of our history and people are connected to it, but it’s not the name of our island,” he said. “Identifying our island by nickname has not always set well with many people who live, work and play here. The nickname has confused some visitors, who think the ‘Big Island’ means ‘big city,’ and mistake Hawaii Island for Oahu, home to the state capital of Honolulu,” Applegate continued. “We will introduce the island as Hawaii Island moving forward.”

To be fair, the island certainly is big, and has plenty of oversized features. At 4,028 square miles, Hawaii, the Big Island (another way the visitor industry will refer to the island) is almost twice the size of Delaware (2,490 square miles), and all the other Hawaiian Islands (2,384 square miles, combined) could fit inside its mass nearly twice. Maunaloa (13,677 feet above sea level) and Maunakea (13,796 feet above sea level) are considered earth’s most massive and tallest mountains, respectively. Measure Maunaloa from its base on the sea floor, and the volcanic mountain measures 30,077 feet! Hawaii Island is so large it has five national parks, including the World Heritage Site, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

“We live up to our nickname and don’t plan to abandon it, yet our island’s proper name, Hawaii, is so special. What a simple yet profound way to honor our host culture,” Applegate said.

How do you feel about the name change? Sound off on Facebook or Twitter (links above)!

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About the Author

Jena Tesse Fox
Jena Tesse Fox covers Europe, Africa, Australia/South Pacific and business travel for the Questex Travel Group's publications. The daughter of history teachers, she can spend...

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By Jena Tesse Fox | July 19, 2011
Tourism officials are changing the way they refer to Hawaii's Big Island and returning to the island's Hawaiian name, Hawaii Island.