The Naming Law

#66 in the Moʻolelo series

When doing work on genealogies, one notices that at a certain point, surnames stop and Hawaiians tend to have one name. This became official in 1860, during the reign of Kamehameha IV (it was amended under Kamehameha V). The law states:

Section 1. All married women now living, and all that may be married hereafter on these Islands, shall, from and after the passage of this Act, adopt the names of their husbands as a family  name.

Section 2. All children born in wedlock after the passage of this Act shall have their father’s name as a family name. They shall, besides, have a Christian name suitable to their sex.

Section 3. All illegitimate children born after the passage of this Act shall have their mother’s name as a family name. They shall, besides, have a Christian name suitable to their sex.

Hawaiian Kingdom, An Act to Regulate Names, in nupepa.org

That it would be the generation of Kamehameha IV and V that made such a law makes sense, because their family had a similar pattern in their names. While they didnʻt have surnames exactly, they had Christian names followed by a Hawaiian name. (The second, Hawaiian names were all different, so they werenʻt surnames): Lot Kapuaiwa, Alexander Liholiho, Victoria Kamāmalu, David Kamehameha, Moses Kekuaiwa.

Lota Kapuaiwa

In my own family, the name Keliʻimakekauonuʻuanu (my great-great-grand father) was abridged into the surname Makekau (this was my great-grandmother’s last name). This was, I think, typical of the period. Tracing back before 1860 becomes more difficult, but one must wonder if this forced naming practice is part of what Sally Engle Merry called (in her book Colonizing Hawaiʻi) criminalizing Hawaiian culture, where formerly acceptable practices were now illegal and the jails were filling with those who simply practiced Hawaiian ways and did not adapt quickly enough.

The new naming practice also contradicts what I understand as Hawaiian understandings of genealogy, where one’s mother’s line was slightly more important (because you always knew who the mother was! Not so the father.) This was even true of Kamehameha IV and V, who made the law – Kaʻahumanu was furious when their high-ranking mother, a daughter of Kamehameha, married the relatively low-born Mataio Kekuanaoʻa – their rank was undoubtedly from their mother.

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