Horse Names

from Hawaii

Ahhhh, tropical breezes, swaying palms, flower scented air and Hawaiian horse names. The state of Hawaii is a lot more horsey than you might think. The main branch of the First Hawaiian Bank Building in downtown Honolulu boasts two large modern art sculptures. What do you think they are? Whales? Hula dancers? A Polynesian canoe? Nope. Horses! The entrance to the Honolulu Academy of the Arts is likewise flanked by two horse sculptures. High school rodeo started on the big island of Hawaii. There are cattle ranches all over Hawaii, even on Oahu the most densely populated island, a living legacy from bygone days when horses were an indispensable part of the economy.

pau rider on gray horse

A pā`ū rider in the King Kamehameha Floral Parade in Honolulu.

No Diacritical Marks

Diacritical marks are used to help with pronunciation. Since we don't use them in English Hawaiian words are often, if not usually, written with the marks omitted. The problem that arises is that omitting them often changes the meaning of the word. For example, ʻio means hawk--not a bad horse name; but, io means paddle rib (whatever that is)--not such a good horse name. Therefore, the Hawaiian horse names offered below were chosen because they do not have diacritical marks.

Hawaiian parade horse with ginger lei

Multiple Meanings

To be sure words in Hawaiian have multiple meanings just like English, so I didn't use any horse names having pejorative alternate meanings.


The written Hawaiian language was created using a phonetic method. There are no silent letters and, with the exception of the letter W, everything is always pronounced the same way. (OK so this is the quick and dirty, English speaker's point of view. See the link below for a more scholarly approach.) Here is a simple guide to Hawaiian vowel pronunciation:

a as in law

e as in egg

i as in week

o as in lone

u as in soon

If you'd like more information, and a more scholarly description of pronunciation follow this link .

Video Links

I have linked to some videos of the Merry Monarch Festival which is held every year on the island of Hawaii. This is a serious hula competition. When I say serious I don't mean they don't have fun, but they do work very hard all year to be ready to compete; and winners are held in very high esteem. There are a couple of versions of the hula, the modern one which most tourists see (also part of this competition though I don't link to it) and the ancient or traditional hula which I show here. Unfortunately for those of us who don't speak Hawaiian we are missing a significant part of the performance since how they handle the Hawaiian language is part of their score. There is a recitation or mele (song) which tells the story the dance describes, at the beginning of the performance. Even if you don't find this part interesting it doesn't last that long and believe me, it's worth the wait.

Finally, here are the Hawaiian horse names:

AHI fire
AKA shadow
AKAMAI clever or smart
ALOHA This means so much more than hello and goodbye. It means love, mercy and compassion. I've seen bumper stickers that say, "Live Aloha." The driver's license manual instructs drivers to, "Treat other drivers with aloha." If there's one word that says Hawaii it's aloha. It is the Aloha State after all.
HAKU boss or lord
HANA MANA miracle
HAU ice, snow
HONI kiss
IPO sweetheart, lover
KAHAKAHA striped
KAIAO dawn
KAPU forbidden, You were expecting tabu? There is no T in Hawaiian. Tabu is Tahitian.
KAULIKE justice
KEA white or light colored
KEKO monkey
KILAKILA majestic
KOA warrior, also brave
KOKO blood, also rainbow-hued
KOLOHE mischievous
KUKUNA ray of sun
KULU AUMOE midnight
KUMU teacher
LANI heavenly
LEILANI name of an Hawaiian princess translated loosely as beloved child
LEO melody
LIO horse
LIO HAO iron horse
LIO IKI little horse
LIO NUI big horse
LULU calm, peace
MAKANI wind or spirit
MAKOA fearless, courageous
MELE song
MELI honey
MOMI pearl
NANI beautiful
PANIOLO cowboy
PANO dark (in color)
PELE the volcano goddess, also volcano
PONO Here is another very important Hawaiian word. I've seen bumper stickers that say, "Live Pono." It means goodness, morality, excellence, right, just and fair.
PUA flower or blossom
THE BIG KAHUNA minister or priest (not chief)
UILA lightning
WIKIWIKI quick, pronounced weekeeweekee
WILI twist

pau rider

pā`ū rider

Pā`ū Riders

When horses were introduced to the Sandwich Islands in the 19th century they were embraced by the Hawaiian people. At that time proper ladies, at least proper ladies in Britain, wore dresses or skirts and rode sidesaddle not astride. Although missionaries managed to convince Hawaiian women to wear dresses they failed to convince them of the necessity of riding astride. Ah, what to do about the skirt? To solve this problem, a young equestrienne would bend down, reach through her legs, grab the back hem of her skirt, pull the hem up between her legs and tuck it in to her waistband in front. Voila! Riding pants! Pā`ū means skirt, and thus these women were called pā`ū riders. Note that in English you may see this written as pau riders, but pau means finished or ended.

Isabella Bird was an Englishwoman who visited the Sandwich Islands, as they were called then, in 1874. She recorded what she saw, and it was later published as a book, in letters to her sister. She recorded the following in January 1874:

Saturday afternoon is a gala-day here, and the broad road was so thronged with brilliant equestrians, that I thought we should be ridden over by the reckless laughing rout. There were hundreds of native horsemen and horsewomen....The women seemed perfectly at home in their gay, brass-bossed, high peaked saddles, flying along astride, barefooted, with their orange and scarlet riding dresses streaming on each side beyond their horses’ tails, a bright kaleidoscopic flash of bright eyes, white teeth, shining hair, garlands of flowers and many-colored dresses.

paint horse

Follow this link to leave horse names from Hawaii and return to Horse-Report's main horse names page.