How 9 Honolulu Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Mike Nelson, AFP/Getty Images
Mike Nelson, AFP/Getty Images

The Aloha State’s largest city, Honolulu, is one of the most distinctive capitals in the United States, thanks to its colorful Polynesian history, World War II sites and museums, and melting-pot ethnic diversity. It’s also one of the few U.S. cities with a volcano looming over it—the iconic Diamond Head, known in Hawaiian as Lēʻahi. Honolulu is also unusual for a state capital in that most of its neighborhood names aren’t in English. Instead, almost every single district’s name comes from the Hawaiian language—one of the state’s two official languages—and they almost all have interesting backstories. (Honolulu itself means “calm harbor.”) Here are a few more.

1. WAIKIKI

Waikiki
Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images

Once a seat of governmental power for the island of Oahu (likely due in no small part to the excellent surfing conditions), Waikiki became a popular tourist destination with the explosion of surf culture in Hollywood films in the late 1950s and early ’60s. The village itself, though, dates back to at least the 13th century, when it was mostly swampland—the word Waikiki means spouting water, after the springs and rivers that abounded in the area.

2. KAIMUKI

Located mauka (on the mountain side) of Diamond Head, Kaimuki is more down-to-earth than its glitzy neighbor Waikiki, with a reputation for eclectic boutiques, book stores, and affordable restaurants, but it has a legendary past. The word ka-imu-ki likely translates to “the oven,” referring to the (also known as ki, or Cordyline fruticosa) plant, a member of the asparagus family. It’s said that the mythical Menehune people steamed the plants in underground ovens on the hillside in the Kaimuki area.

3. ʻĀINA HAINA

A community east of Waikiki, ʻĀina Haina was for centuries called Wailupe, which means “kite water,” for the kite flying that was popular in the area. It was also the last outpost of the city, where the residential blocks turned into pig and dairy farms. It was one such dairy farm, in fact, that brought about its name change—the Hind-Clarke Dairy was once a leading local dairy best known for its ice cream parlor on Kalanianaole Highway, which runs through the area. When owner Robert Hind sold the dairy in 1946, the neighborhood was named after him: ʻĀina Haina means “Hind’s Land” in Hawaiian.

4. KAKAʻAKO

Kaka'ako Street Art
jj-walsh, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kakaʻako has seen a lot of change throughout the years. The neighborhood was originally home to agricultural terraces, fishponds, and salt ponds, which were considered highly valuable. In the 1880s, immigrant camps were built in Kakaʻako, which later became quarantine zones as smallpox, bubonic plague, and Hansen’s disease (more commonly known as leprosy) hit the island. By the ’40s, there were around 5000 working class people living in the area who came from as far away as Portugal and China. Around the same time, the area was becoming increasingly industrialized, with many of those people working at the Honolulu Iron Works. Today, Kakaʻako is known as a hip commercial area with craft cocktail bars and expensive condo buildings. But the word kakaʻako harkens back to its humble roots: It has been translated to mean a place to "chop, beat or prepare thatching," a reference to the local salt marshes where Hawaiians once gathered the grass for their roofs.

5. MAKIKI

Connecting downtown Honolulu and the Mānoa neighborhood, Makiki is a mix of blue-collar and well-to-do Honolulans, partially stemming from its past as a plantation district—both rich plantation owners and workers once lived there. It will probably always best be known as the childhood home of Barack Obama, however, who spent most of his youth living in his maternal grandparents’ apartment on Beretania Street. But long before the future president lived there, the valley was home to a basalt quarry, where the stone was specifically used to fashion octopus lures. This explains the name makiki—it’s the Hawaiian word for the weights in the lures.

6. MĀNOA

Just inland from downtown Honolulu, the neighborhood of Mānoa consists of an entire valley, stretching roughly between the Koʻolau Mountain Range and Lunalilo Freeway. Many Hawaiian myths are set in Mānoa; it’s said to be the home of the Menehune [PDF], who controlled the valley from a fort on Rocky Hill, near where Punahou School now sits. As for the name itself, mānoa is a Hawaiian word that translates to “thick,” “depth,” or “vast,” which certainly describes the valley itself.

7. MŌʻILIʻILI

The neighborhood of Mōʻiliʻili lies just across the freeway from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, sandwiched between it and Waikiki. King William Lunalilo owned the land in the mid-19th century, and before that, Queen Kamamalu's summer cottages stood on the site where The Willows restaurant now stands. Mōʻiliʻili’s name comes from an old Hawaiian myth wherein three characters are teased by a moʻo, a mischievous lizard totem god, who then gets zapped by a lightning bolt and transformed into a pile of rocks, now a specific hill in the neighborhood of the old Hawaiian Church. Kamo'ili'ili means “pebble lizard” or “place of the pebble lizards,” and the name was later abbreviated to Mō’ili’ili. The neighborhood is also known as McCully-Mōʻiliʻili, after Lawrence McCully (1831-1892) of the Hawaiian Supreme Court.

8. KAPĀLAMA

The phrase “ka pā lama” translates to “the enclosure of lama wood,” and lama is the word for the Hawaiian ebony tree, which once heavily forested the area. Also called the Hawaiian persimmon for its astringent persimmon-like fruit, the lama tree is found on every Hawaiian island except Ni‘ihau and and Kaho'olawe. It was used by native Hawaiians for food, medicine, frames for fishing nets, and religious purposes, such as the construction of temples. The tree itself represented Laka, the goddess of hula dance, and the trees are used in the hula performances. While lama usually refers to the tree, the word itself literally translates as “light” in Hawaiian, and by extension enlightenment—because that’s what you attain when you learn the hula. These days, Kāpalama is often combined with the adjacent Liliha neighborhood and referred to as a conglomerate district, Liliha-Kāpalama.

9. PĀLOLO

View of Palolo Valley from Mu-Rang-Sa Buddhist Temple
Patricia Barden, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Like nearby Mānoa, Pālolo takes up an entire, very picturesque valley. Snuggled between Kaimuki and the mountains, the valley’s mauka (mountain side) is mostly agricultural land, home to orchid nurseries and grass farms, while the makai (ocean side) is densely residential, populated mostly by simple plantation-style cottages. Although it’s only four miles from downtown Honolulu and well within the city limits, Pālolo maintains a small-town, rural aesthetic, and as such, its name is appropriate: The word pālolo means “clay” and pertains to the type of the soil in the valley.

The History Behind 7 New York City Street Names

deberarr/istock via getty images
deberarr/istock via getty images

Modern life means constantly rushing to get places, especially in New York. Whether it’s the daily grind to get to work or the rush to hit happy hour, residents are probably concentrating more on getting somewhere than carefully considering the details of their surroundings.

But next time you're in New York—or if you're a resident already—try looking up from your phone to take a peek at the street names above you. Along with your more common numbered designations and things like "Park Avenue," you’ll notice the city has some pretty strange denominations. Here are seven of the more eye-catching, and the brief history behind their names.

1. Asser Levy Place

Tucked between the generically named 23rd and 25th streets, Asser Levy Place stands out like a sore thumb. Located not far from Stuyvesant Town, this unassuming street bears the name for a pretty prominent historical figure.

Said to have been born in what is now Poland and Lithuania, Asser Levy was one of the first Jewish settlers to land in the predominantly Dutch New Amsterdam. The governor at the time, Peter Stuyvesant, was “violently opposed” to the freshly emigrated Jewish community, unhappy at the fact that they were now allowed to trade and reside within the area [PDF]. Levy was not only the first kosher butcher in the land but also the first Jew to gain rights of citizenship in the country. Additionally, Levy donated funds to help New York fight the British Crown, and eventually took up arms against the British himself.

2. Maiden Lane

The history behind Maiden Lane’s designation is just as picturesque as it sounds. Known to Dutch settlers as Maagde Paatje (or “maiden path”), this portion of land once ran alongside a brook where women and girls would wash clothing. There are darker associations with the area too, though: Maiden Lane also saw a brutal slave revolt in 1712.

Today the street is one of many centers of commerce for the city, although the concrete still holds remnants of the city’s more ornate past. Passersby can take a look at the Barthman Clock, a 19th-century timepiece embedded into the intersection of Maiden Lane and Broadway.

3. Mott Street

Located primarily in the heart of Chinatown, Mott Street’s modern associations aren’t the most flattering. Once the site of multiple crime scenes and illegal activities, the street has garnered a somewhat seedy reputation over time.

But before it became affiliated with the seedy underbelly, Mott Street had patriotic associations. Joseph Mott, the street’s namesake, owned a tavern used as headquarters for General George Washington in 1775. His descendants proved dedicated to equally worthy causes, with Dr. Valentine Mott rising to prominence as one of America’s most influential surgeons.

4. Pearl Street

Before the concrete jungle fully took over, the streets of New York were dominated by oysters. Due to their bountiful number, the shells of shucked clams would pile up into what archaeologists call middens—large piles of domestic waste that have survived the centuries. One particularly large heap was located on the modern-day Pearl Street, giving rise to the mollusk-related moniker. Oddly, however, these oysters were not the pearl-producing kind—although they dominated a good portion of the New York market for quite some time.

5. Minetta Lane

Speaking of water-related items, did you know a once-babbling creek was paved over by one of the city’s more famous streets? That’s right: Known to the Dutch as Mintje Kill or “small stream,” Minetta Brook was “[a] brisk little brook full of trout,” according to one 19th century source, that was covered by the city’s expansion around the 1820s. It was also where a community of “half free” African Americans resided in the 17th century—former enslaved people that were allowed to live on the land by paying annual fees.

6. MacDougal Street

MacDougal Street is known for its vibrant nightlife and for hosting the early days of Bob Dylan’s career. But it also holds claim to a not-so-well-known spelling error.

The street was named for one Alexander Mcdougall, a Scotsman who emigrated to what would become the United States as a child in 1740 and settled in New York. Mcdougall made a name for himself in the mercantile trade and shipping business and was an early defender of American independence. He openly voiced his opinions against British rule, and was even imprisoned for passing out revolutionary pamphlets. His colorful life saw him commissioned as a colonel in the First New York Infantry during the Revolutionary War, become a member of the Continental Congress, and rise as the first president of the Bank of New York. However, how or why the second L in his name was dropped in the naming of the street remains a mystery.

7. Margaret Corbin Drive

Located at the city’s far northern tip, Margaret Corbin Drive is named for a young Pennsylvanian woman whose tough life molded her into a tougher lady. Her childhood saw the death of her father by Native Americans and her mother’s capture soon after; years later, the British killed her husband during the Battle of Fort Washington. Margaret, who was standing by his side at the time, quickly took his place in the conflict by handling his cannon—receiving several bullets as a result.

The U.S. government recognized her bravery by providing her disability compensation (as well as rum and whiskey rations) for many years. Although sometimes remembered as a “haughty and disagreeable eccentric,” the affectionately called “Captain Molly” is forever memorialized by the street running along the site where her brave acts took place.

Denver's Tiny Home Village Helps Residents Transition Out of Homelessness

iStock.com/Stefan Tomic
iStock.com/Stefan Tomic

In an effort to help the homeless population in its city, the Denver City Council has approved a plan to relocate a village made up of low-cost tiny homes.

According to Denver news outlet KDVR, the homes were unanimously approved for placement in the Globeville neighborhood of the city. Each of the 20 temporary structures will be able to house two residents looking to transition out of homelessness. The tiny home village will include a communal kitchen and two portable toilets, which will eventually be replaced by permanent bathrooms. The land used will be leased by the city to a nonprofit for just $10 a year.

The tiny home village was forced to move from its original location due to plans for redevelopment on the site. The new location has been met with some skepticism by Globeville neighbors, who expressed concern about criminal activity and complained during council meetings that they weren’t consulted on the decision.

To help offset concerns, the Colorado Village Collaborative, the village's organizer, has agreed to exclude sex offenders from the housing and will set up a telephone hotline for residents who have complaints. Occupants will be expected to clear the area of snow, maintain the premises, and open their doors to city inspectors.

Concentrated areas made up of tiny homes have taken hold as a potential alternative to homeless shelters in recent years, with tiny home villages popping up in cities like Seattle, Kansas City, Austin, and Detroit. Of the 19 residents who lived in Denver’s current tiny home location, five went on to permanent housing.

[h/t KDVR]

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