Hawaiʻi Board on Geographic Names

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About the Board

The Hawaiʻi State Board on Geographic Names was created by Act 50 of the 1974 Hawaiʻi State Legislature.  Act 50 (Chapter 4E, Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes) states that the purpose of the Board is “… to assure uniformity in the use and spelling of the names of geographic features within the State.”

The Board is responsible for designating the official names and spellings of geographic features in Hawaiʻi.  In its deliberations, the Board solicits and considers the advice and recommendations of the appropriate County government officials and, as appropriate, other knowledgeable persons.

The Board consists of the following persons or their representatives:  the chairperson of the Board of Land and Natural resources, the chairperson of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the chairperson of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands, the director of the Office of Planning, the president of the University of Hawaiʻi, the State Land Surveyor, and the director of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Project to correct spellings of Hawaiian Place Names

In the late 1990’s, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began updating the 1:24,000 quadrangle maps of Hawaiʻi.  One of the features of the updated maps was to be the addition of diacritical marks to the Hawaiian names appearing on the maps.  At the request of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the Hawaiʻi Board on Geographic Names, which is responsible for designating official names and spellings of geographic features in Hawaiʻi, began a multi-year project to review each of the over 10,000 names that appear on the quadrangle maps and/or in the U.S. Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) and to add the ʻokina and kahakō, or diacritical marks, as appropriate.  Documents available on the HBGN website list the decisions that have been rendered so far by the Board.

Thus far, the Board has reviewed all of the names appearing on the USGS quadrangle maps, and is now reviewing additional names that appear in the GNIS.  It should be noted that the Board has adopted a policy of adding diacritical marks only where there is solid evidence that there should be ʻokina or kahakō.  Therefore, there are many instances where no decision has been rendered and the Board has advised USGS to leave the name without any diacritical marks until further research can be conducted.

In making its decisions, the Board generally followed conventions developed by ‘Ahahui ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i in 1978. Place Names of Hawaii (Pukui, Elbert & Mookini) was considered the primary source for determining the appropriate use of kahakō or ‘okina in individual place names. The Board has deviated from these sources when other experts, such as native Hawaiian speaking elders from a particular area, have provided alternative pronunciations.  In 2014, the Board sought to further standardize and document decision making criteria by developing a publicly available style guide to be followed when making decisions regarding use of ʻokina or kahakō in Hawaiian place names. The style guide was completed in January of 2015 and revised in February 2016.  You can view or download the current version of the Guidelines for Hawaiian Geographic Names.

Spelling correction status by island: