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A Fish By Any Other Name – Hawaiian Names for Common Aquarium Fish

HUma TriggerBy this time of year, we’re all at the end of a long, cold winter and have our sights set on the warmer weather ahead. So, in honor of the vacations and tropical beaches we all wish we were on, I thought I’d share some of the native Hawaiian names of some of our favorite tropical aquarium fish.

The fish on this list are those found around the eight Hawaiian islands. Some are endemic – meaning they are found only around the Hawaiian islands – while others are found in other areas of the Pacific and even Indian Oceans. Keep in mind that in native Hawaiian, some words have multiple meanings and some of these names may refer to a group of fish. This list is far from all-inclusive and are just some of the more interesting names that I’ve found.

  • Ala’ihiSquirrelfish, mostly from the Sargocentron genus
  • Humuhumu – This is one of the most well known Hawaiian fish names. Although used most for the “HumaHuma Trigger”, the term “humuhumu” is actually part of the naming for several fish:  Humuhumunukunukuāpua’a, The state fish of Hawaii, actually refers to a few similar fish, including the Huma Huma Trigger (Rhinecanthus aculeatus). The “official” state fish is the Rectangle Trigger (R. rectangulus). This is the second longest Hawaiian fish name.
  • Humuhumu lei – known in the trade as the True Bursa Trigger (Sufflamen bursa).
  • Humuhumu hi’u lolePinktail Trigger (Melichthys vidua)
  • Kīkākapu – This refers to a number of butterflyfish from the Chaetodon genus., most of which appear to be striped in some way.
  • LauwiliwiliChaetodon miliaris, a butterflyfish known here as the “Millet Seed Butterfly
  • Lauwiliwilinukunuku’oio’oi – Known more desriptively to us as one of the two Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish, Forcipiger flavissimus or F. longirostris. This has the honor of being the longest Hawaiian fish name.
  • NohuScorpionfish. Some species that may be found in your aquarium:
  • Nohu ‘omakaha – Devil Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis diabolus)
  • Nohu pinao – A few lionfish like the Hawaiian Lionfish (Dendrochirus barberi) and Sphex Lion (Pterois sphex)
  • Pāo’o – Blenny. Some of the blennies from the Cirripectes and Istiblennius genuses are found in Hawaii and are known by this name.
  • Piliko’a – We simply call it the Redbarred Hawkfish, Cirrhitops fasciatus.
  • Puhi – “Puhi” simply means “eel”. Many species of eel have more specific names. A few common aquarium species:
  • Puhi kāpāSnowflake Moray Eel (Echidna nebulosa)
  • Puhi kāpa’a – Peppered Moray Eel (Gymnothorax pictus)
  • Puhi lau milo – Undulated Moray Eel (Gymnothorax undulatus)
  • UpāpaluCardinalfish. This can refer to a number of Cardinalfish from the Apogonidae family.
  • U’u – Soldierfish, mostly from the Myripristis genus

Hawaiian LionfishNotice a trend in these names? While English uses a 26-letter alphabet, Hawaiian only uses 12 letters – A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, and W – plus some vowel stresses (the dashes above the letter). Every consonant is also always followed by a vowel, so no Hawaiian word ever ends with a consonant.

Many of the fish listed above are available for the home aquarium. Let us know what you have in your tank now that you can give them all new Hawaiian names!



Hawaiian Lionfish image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Richard Ling


  1. avatar

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About Eileen Daub

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Marine Biologist/Aquatic Husbandry Manager I was one of those kids who said "I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!"....except then I actually became one. After a brief time at the United States Coast Guard Academy, I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2004. Since then, I've been a marine biologist at That Fish Place - That Pet Place, along with a Fish Room supervisor, copywriter, livestock inventory controller, livestock mail-order supervisor and other duties here and there. I also spent eight seasons as a professional actress with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and in other local roles. If that isn't bad enough, I'm a proud Crazy Hockey Fan (go Flyers and go Hershey Bears!).