A brief Hawaiian lesson

Recently, I’ve noticed a bit of bloggernacle discussion over a question of burning importance: How to pronounce “Kaimi.” Here’s the short answer: Ka-EE-mee. It has three syllables, you stress the middle one, and Hawaiian pronounces its vowels more-or-less identical to Spanish.

That said, it’s very easy to get this wrong, and I answer to many pronunciations — Kaymee, Kye-mee, Kye-amy, Kee-mee, Kye-Eee-mee. (In fact, if I’m near a Jamie or Amy or Cami and someone addresses one of them — “Amy, look at this” — I’m likely to turn my head to see if they’re talking to me). I’m pretty flexible, and many (most?) of my ward members, co-workers, and acquaintances probably never know if they’re not quite getting it right. (I even dated a girl for two months without her figuring out how to pronounce my name. Yeah, that was one of the contributing causes in the break-up).

I should note that, unless you really know your Hawaiian, you would be excused for going with Kye-mee instead. “Kai” is indeed a word in Hawaiian (it means ocean) and there are a lot of names, like Kailani, that would be pronounced that way. However, the etymology of my name is not Kai-mi (Ocean + “mi” — but “mi” doesn’t have a meaning that I’m aware of). It is, rather, Ka-imi (well, Ka-imi-pono in total). Which is “The” (Ka), “seek” (imi), “righteousness” (pono).

(Turning Ka-i words into Kai words is actually a (sort-of) common mistake in Hawaiian. My grandmother (an expert on Hawaiian culture and to a lesser degree, language) would lecture me if I called her neighborhood (Kaimuki) as Kai-muki (which everyone does). She would explain that it’s not Kai-muki (which means, I think, “drink from the ocean”) but rather Ka-imu-ki (which means “the oven where Ki leaves (local plant) were cooked).)

Well, that concludes our Hawaiian lesson for the week. For next week, we’ll go over the equally perplexing question: How does one pronounce “Nate”? Most of you are probably thinking “Nayt,” and will be surprised at the cajun-derived, two-syllable pronunciation “Nahh-tehh.” Don’t forget the hard “H” at the end.

23 comments for “A brief Hawaiian lesson

  1. Bryce I
    October 25, 2004 at 11:38 am

    Also, for anyone who cares, “Inouye” is pronounced “Smith” as in “Joseph Smith”

    (Old joke of my grandpa’s. Works better when you say it instead of type it).

    Actually, “Inouye” these days is generally transliterated “Inoue,” which isn’t any better, but makes more sense. It’s properly four syllables:
    “ee-noh-ooh-eh” (more or less). I usually say something like “in-no-way” as opposed to the less felicitous “annoy.”

    There’s nothing more dispiriting than having a native Japanese speaker ask your name, saying it in what you think is a proper fashion, have them stare at you quizzically for a second, repeat what you just said in what sounds like exactly the same way, and then say, “Oh, I see.”

  2. October 25, 2004 at 11:48 am

    And let me add that Bartholomew is not prounced Bartholo-mule. So many people get this wrong, for reasons that are not clear to me. Unless this is a not-so-subtle way to say that I am an ass. :mrgreen:

  3. October 25, 2004 at 12:05 pm

    Kaimi, is there a glottal-stopping ‘ in there? (“Ka’imi”)

  4. Mardell
    October 25, 2004 at 12:19 pm

    I figured out how to pronouce it in less than a month. I guess I passed the test is that why you married me.

  5. October 25, 2004 at 1:26 pm

    This is how dumb I am. I assumed it was some norther European name.

  6. Aaron Brown
    October 25, 2004 at 1:39 pm

    Yes, I can see why your name would be hard to pronounce. What is less understandable are all the people (most people, it seems) who can’t spell “Aaron” when I say my name. I either get “Erin,” which I believe is less common, and is a girl’s name in any event, or “Arron,” which, as far as I know, is so rare as to be virtually non-existent. Why do so many people get my name wrong? I truly don’t get it. Think of all the famous Aarons you know: Hank Aaron, Aaron Eckhart, Aaron Spelling, Aaron Brown (the other one), Aaron Carter, Aaron the brother of Moses, etc. They all spell it the “correct” way, just like me. So what is everybody’s problem?

    They should all be punished, I say.

    Aaron B

  7. October 25, 2004 at 2:01 pm

    And for those of you who saw the movie "Space Camp", who could forget the pronunciation of Kadayo Takamini?

    Andi: Kadayo Takamini? (louder) Kadayo Takamini?
    (Kevin runs up beside Catherine.)
    Kevin: Right here.
    Andi: Kadayo Takamini?
    Kevin: Actually it’s pronounced Kevin Donaldson.
    Andi: I don’t have a Donaldson.
    Kevin: Well, you have one now.

  8. October 25, 2004 at 2:06 pm

    FTR, My name is pronounced “kim see•ver”, not “ken sigh•ver” or whatever other combination you can come up with. and despite what the guy from the Clearbrook Ward insisted, it IS the original German spelling and pronunciation.

  9. XON
    October 25, 2004 at 2:20 pm

    There is no proper pronunciation for my name.

    Thank you.


  10. October 25, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    Well, this might give me the mnemonic tools to stop thinking of Kaimi as a female. Dang assumed cultural conventions…

    (And me? It’s SHOO-mayt.)

  11. Bryce I
    October 25, 2004 at 2:51 pm


    Aside from the fact that Kaimi regularly makes reference to his wife Mardell, he would be one frighteningly ugly woman. (apologies to women with facial hair).

    BTW, you’re one of those lucky gaijin who have surnames that have kana-friendly spellings. Why not shoe-mah-teh?

  12. PoNyman
    October 25, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    Speaking of another unpronounceable…congrats to Kahemee on the Volohk.com link.

  13. October 25, 2004 at 3:26 pm

    It seems like this post needs to spawn a thread on last names being butchered in the mission. My last name is Clifton and in Guatemala I often heard “Elder Cleep-stone“.

  14. Adam Greenwood
    October 25, 2004 at 3:27 pm

    I was known as ‘Green goose,’ thanks to the Communist Party Secretary I mention in the “On the Left” thread.

  15. October 25, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    The Korean language has no proper “r”, nor “l”, nor “f”, nor “x” sound. This made “Russell Fox” rather difficult; the closest phonetic translation of what I usually heard spoken back at me when people asked my name would be “Llozell Paksuh.” “Paksuh Chahng-no” (Elder Fox) was annoying, so I started introducing myself by way of the Korean word for “fox”, “yuh-oo.” It took a little while for people to get it, but when they did it was always good for a laugh. (Partly because, as an “elder,” I was obviously male, but a fox in Korean folklore and popular imagination is almost always a vixen, and usually a conniving, untrustworthy one at that. )

  16. Julie in Austin
    October 25, 2004 at 6:01 pm

    No one has ever mispronounced my name :)

  17. October 25, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    “Evans” in French turned out “heavens” and “A-vons.” Best two years of my life, indeed.

  18. October 25, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    Serving in Utah, my name frequently was mis-pronounced and -spelled “Sevier”. Yes, juts like the county.

  19. Bryce I
    October 25, 2004 at 7:37 pm

    As I have already pointed out, the only person who mispronounced my name on my mission was yours truly.

  20. October 25, 2004 at 7:49 pm

    Bryce, all these years I was trying to pronounce your last name correctly by saying in-a-way. I find it oddly encouraging that you were being corrected (sort of) by native Japanese folks. Now if I could just convince 30% of the people who talk to me that Bartholomew isn’t pronounced Bartholomewl.

  21. Mark B
    October 25, 2004 at 8:13 pm

    Someone should take danithew aside and kindly explain to him the difference between an ass and a mule. Perhaps the lesson can include instruction about which can be the other’s mother, and which cannot. Even more important would be the inclusion of the immortal words of Puddnhead Wilson:

    There is no character, howsoever good and fine, but it can be destroyed by ridicule, howsoever poor and witless. Observe the ass, for instance: his character is about perfect, he is the choicest spirit among all the humbler animals, yet see what ridicule has brought him to. Instead of feeling complimented when we are called an ass, we are left in doubt.

    Remember, danithew, the mule is stubborn and sterile, whereas the ass is “the choicest spirit among all the humbler animals”, perhaps reserved for this day with all the other choice spirits.

  22. sid
    October 25, 2004 at 8:33 pm

    My given name is Siddhartha – my parents being devout Hindus from a very traditional family in India, thought it was a real cool name that meant -“one who has achieved the Truth”!!!!!!! Except, I havent achieved any kind of truth, and most people here in Michigan mangle my name so bad, that I have started telling folks my name is Sid, not Sidney or anything like that, just plain Sid!!!!

  23. D. Fletcher
    October 28, 2004 at 4:25 pm

    D. is pretty memorable, which is why I keep it. It is short for David, not Dee, or Dewitt, or anything else. But many people don’t hear it right — they think it’s either Dean or Steve. Once corrected, most people never forget.

    By the way, Kaimi, the long A in English is a dipthong — it has a natural EEE sound at the end, which can be shortened or elongated. Hence, I have told people to pronounce your name KAY-ME, which isn’t entirely wrong, but perhaps it should have been stressed KAYEEME.

    I know another Kaimipono, who had his wedding reception in this apartment. He married my cousin’s wife’s sister, Mary Irvine.

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