Wednesday, December 7, 2011


For infamy or friendship, O'ahu is a gathering of four letter words.

I've been wondering about place names a lot since my post on Monday.  I've been trying to figure out how to break down where place names in the US come from.  There are many, of course, that are named after a person - either a person who established the place or some other historical figure.  Many of them take their names from the Native Americans who lived there when they were first populated.  Quite a few, mostly on the East Cost, were named after the ports or cities in the old world where the settlers set out to the new.  A few are named after local features, tho for some reason that seems much smaller than the other categories.

Such was my thinking when, this morning, I pondered the Hawaiian island of Oahu, or O'ahu as it would be written in Hawaiian.  I immediately wondered what the etymology of its name was.  Looking it up - the answer isn't actually all that clear.  Sources refer to the island as "The Gathering Place", but some state this is what the name of the island means, while others say that it is just known by this nickname.  Reading further, some sources indicate that the confusion may stem from confusion with the Hawaiian word 'o ahu which does mean "gathering place", but is unrelated to the word O'ahu which may just have been the name of a character in Hawaiian folklore, and thus the name of the island.

I suspect most people aren't thinking about the name today, however.  They're thinking about events on O'ahu 70 years ago.  Specifically, on the southern part of the island known as Pearl Harbor, where Japanese air forces executed an attack on US naval forces docked in port.  The attack, at 8am on a Sunday was only one part of a multi-faceted attack on US and other forces around the Pacific, and lead to direct involvement by America in the battles in the Pacific and, soon after, Europe.

A much less pleasant sort of gathering.