Vanity, and a Contest

When we moved to California at the end of last year, I was looking for ways to remind myself of Kaua’i in a positive, hopeful way. And I suppose, I also wanted a way to tell others “Hey, I just moved here from Kaua’i.”

So, for the first time in my life, I really wanted a personalized license plate on my car. It fits both roles, although a little too much of the second one for my liking—they don’t call them vanity plates for nothing. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. You can pay them even more and get a pretty picture on the plate. That’s usually not my style either, but they have a humpback whale tail that seemed to be a sort of connection between Hawai’i and California (ignoring the fact that the whales are actually migrating to and from Alaska).

My idea of a personalized plate is not something so straightforward as “I ? Kauai.” That’s almost too, dare I say, pedestrian. I always liked the plates that are little word games or make you think about what the driver (author?) intended.

It turns out, the California DMV (dept. of motor vehicles) has a fun little website where you can enter the text to see if it has already been taken. In the process, it creates an image of the plate, and I knew immediately where those would end up (here!). Unfortunately a lot of the good plates are taken:

Inspired by Brother IZ, this was my first choice. What could be better than a song that specifically talks about going back to Kaua’i, and names all the beautiful places there. Here’s a link to the lyrics and the song (plays automatically). Such a great idea that it was already taken.

Next were some other names for Kauai. Kauai a Manokalanipo would be great if it weren’t so long, so I tried the English nickname, the Garden Isle. Already taken, but I find it rather trite anyways.

Much better would be mokihana, Kaua’i’s symbolic plant found in the island lei, on the county seal, and in the forests of Koke’e. Not available.

Still in the plant kingdom, naupaka. Not really special to Kaua’i, but associated with the romatic legend of two lovers separated, one in the mountains, the other by the sea. A bit too melodramatic for my situation, and also taken.

After the plants, how about animals? What could be more obvious than a whale picture and its Hawaiian name. So obvious it was taken, and can’t really be associated with Kaua’i.

Maui nokea and Kaua’i nofea. So local that it must be some other transplants who have these plates already (and probably deserve them more).

I used to live in Wailua. It’s the name of a river, but mostly thought of as a neighborhood by the locals. It’s not a town yet it’s well-known, and it is historically significant. And I’m not be the first person from there to want a personalized plate in California.

What about my other favorite places on Kauai?

The Na Pali coast is unique and distinctive of Kaua’i. Often pictured and already on a license plate.

I’m in no way the most experienced Kalalau hiker (by far), but I was hoping to be the first to want to memorialize it on a license plate here. I’m not.

After some more thinking, I chose the following (so now it’s taken too):

But what does it mean?

It’s Hawaiian obviously, but you can’t find it in Google. You can probably find it in a dictionary, but there’s more to it than just the literal translation. I will send a bar of Organic Kaua’i Chocolate to the first person who finds the connection and leaves a comment with valid email (in the address field so it is not public). I’ll be on Kaua’i at the end of March to buy the cholocolate. The contest ends April 15th, that’s when I’ll eat the chocolate.

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  1. An extreme guess here since I’m not Hawaiian and thus do not speak the language.

    I think the literal (or nearly so) translation is “sacred land” which I think we all agree would be a fitting description for Kauai.

    The tie-in has to do potentially with two parts of the mythology associated with Laamaikahiki who was also known as La’a and was an adopted son of a Kauaian king. So it could be you are saying that Kauai is your adopted land or that Kauai has adopted you.

    Or, you could be referencing La’a’s return to Kauai at the request of his father. No doubt, you feel you will return to the island permanently someday, though I think La’a actually stayed for quite a while, but died in Tahiti.

    That’s my opinion, but I could be totally off-base.


  2. Andy says:

    Hi Bill,

    You got the translation right, and I really like your possible connection. It’s not the one I based my choice upon, but if I’d known that story it could’ve been. And I have to admire your cultural depth, I hadn’t heard bit of Kauaiian history before–I’m no scholar, but I have read a lot. Feel free to keep trying if you have any other ideas.

  3. One more try and then I’m going to give up.

    The literal translation of Aina La’a could be considered synonymous for Wailua according to the royal history of Wailua. And since this is where you used to live, this seems to make sense.

    If I’m wrong, am I over-thinking this?


  4. Andy says:

    Now that is a stretch, Bill. I’m not sure that the Wailua area was literally sacred, though it was definitely the private domain of the kings and their priests. Plus, no translation is 100%, so even though “sacred land” is the given translation, what does that really mean, and what did it mean to the Hawaiians.

    Let me just say there are a few clues–more like connections–in the post, maybe that will help someone.

  5. tara says:

    I’m going to guess “sacred plant.” It just feels right!

  6. Chris says:

    “Holy Land,” as a place to which the pilgrim is drawn and seeks to return, as in Jerusalem, Mecca?

    That’s pretty much how I see Kauai.

  7. Andy says:

    All good guesses so far, but still no chocolate :-)

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