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Hawaii Map

Hawai‘i an Island or a State?

While looking in the Hawaii Map (above) you might have this question, so here we are with the answer.

Both. This island, more than any other in this state, is a bit schizophrenic when it comes to names. This is the biggest island in the state, so it is commonly referred to as (brace yourself) the Big Island.

Its Hawaiian name is Hawai‘i. So far, so good. But the whole state is called Hawai‘i. So you figure the capital must be here, right? Nope, Honolulu is on O‘ahu. This must be where most of the people live, right? Uh-uh. O‘ahu has 80 percent of the population. Well, this must be where Pearl Harbor is, correct? Wrong answer—it’s on O‘ahu, too. So why is the state named after this island? Because it’s the biggest island, and this is where King Kamehameha the Great was from. It was he who brought all the islands under one rule for the first time. His first capital was here at Kailua (another naming headache—see below). When you do all that, you have some historical influence. In this book we will refer to this island as the Big Island. When we say Hawai‘i, we mean the whole state. (Even my brother, when he came to visit the Big Island, called from Honolulu to have me pick him up, assuming it must be on the “main” island.) In short, in Hawai‘i could be anywhere—on Hawai‘i is on the Big Island.

I won’t even get into the name confusion for the town of Waimea. (Or is it Kamuela?) Let’s tackle a more annoying naming problem.

The main town on the west side is called Kailua-Kona, Kona, Kailua or sometimes Kailua Town. In the old days it was simply Kailua. Though there are also towns named Kailua on O‘ahu and Maui, it didn’t present much of a problem to anyone until the post office discovered these islands. In order to keep from messing up the mail (don’t say it!), they decided to rename the town. (Technically, they renamed their post office, but the subtlety is lost on those who have to address mail.) Since this is the kona side of the island (kona being the name of the less common wind that comes from this direction), they cleverly named the post office Kailua-Kona. To complicate matters further, the builders of the airport here named it the Kona Airport, so people began to refer to a trip here as “going to Kona.” All this leaves you with a quandary. What do you call this place? Well, in keeping with our editorial policy of taking gutsy stands, we’ll call it Kailua-Kona…except when we call it Kona or Kailua Town. In fairness, that’s because most who live here do the same.