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Hawaiian-Chinese Surnames


Hawaiian-Chinese Surnames


     Genealogical research for those with Hawaiian-Chinese surnames is a field of its own.  The early plantation laborers were registered under their given name rather than their full names.  Without a Chinese surname listed, the researcher has to ask relatives, copy gravestone markings, check baptismal records and society records for clues.  A surname might be lost also when a young Chinese lad entering school for the first time was asked his name and was registered with his surname as his given name and vice versa. 


     Chinese words are monosyllabic.  Most Chinese surnames are single characters.  Many Hawaiian-sounding surnames are not true Hawaiian names.  Furthermore, these surnames are not Chinese surnames either.  They are Chinese first names with "Ah" or the prefix "A" before it.  They are informal given names, relationship names, or Hawaiianized Chinese given names used as surnames.


     The prefix "A" or the word "Ah" is a diminutive like "ette" in the French name Jeanette or the "ie" or "y" in the English name Jimmie or Johnny.  Such names are informal names used by family and friends.  A Chinese example would be Ah Lan instead of Yuk Lan, and Afook instead of Kam Fook.  Afook, Asing, and Ah Loy are examples of first names used as Hawaiian surnames.


     Sometimes Hawaiian-Chinese surnames were originally family relationship names like Apo, meaning "grandma," Ako, meaning "elder brother," or Ah Nee, meaning "No. 2 child in the family."  Chinese like to address family friends, not only their true blood relatives, by affectionate appellations denoting close family relationships.


     Often a Chinese will taken on a Hawaiianized first name like Akana, which is derived from "A" plus "kan" plus "a" with its soft Hawaiian suffix, as his surname.  Other Hawaiianized Chinese surnames are Ahana, Awana and Ai.


Click here for a longer list of some Hawaiian-Chinese surnames


    These coinages were evidence of the warm relationship existing between the native Hawaiians and the early Chinese immigrants.  Many Chinese spoke Hawaiian as their second language, and many Hawaiians went to China with their Chinese husbands or fathers and spoke Chinese fluently. 



Source:  Lai, Researching One's Chinese Roots.  Hawaii Chinese History Center, Honolulu, HI.  1988.