Posted by: kuhiovogeler | March 16, 2010

Value of a Name

Somehow, in the last eight months since I completed my dissertation, the value of my name has changed. I am not sure if this is for the better.

The name on my birth certificate is Stephen Kuhio Vogeler (there were no kahakō over the “u” and the “o”). As a kid in California, people called me “Steve.” After I moved to Hawai‘i and enrolled in Hawaiian language and chant classes, people started to call me “Kūhiō,” my middle name. I even learned that there should be two kahakō in Kūhiō. Then when I worked at Costco, so that I was not confused with the three other Steves in the same department, I continued to use “Kūhiō” (my original boss, Ron, only called me “Prince,” which made me feel shy). Sometimes people at Costco would ask, “Is your brother’s name Kamehameha?” These people were disappointed when they found out that my brother’s name actually is “Kamehameha,” William Kamehameha Vogeler (my mom always said that she named him after Kamehameha Schools).

Today, only family calls me “Steve.” I remember once, while at ‘Iolani Palace coordinating an event, running from one venue to another, I heard a “Stephen” from somewhere in the crowd and stopped in my tracks. I knew that if the name is “Stephen,” either I was in trouble, or this was a family member who knew me since small-kid-time. When I stopped and turned, I found my auntie, who I had not seen in ten or fifteen years. From that one word, “Stephen,” I knew that, whatever I was doing, it could not have been more important than the person who said my name.

Last year, my name accrued the extra letters: PhD. When people call me Dr. Vogeler, I think of my dad, who was a psychiatrist. For academic work I use “Kūhiō Vogeler, PhD”. My business card also has the PhD at the end of my name. But the PhD is not necessarily a good thing. Just a few months ago a kūpuna, an elder, who has been an activist for forty years, derided me because I have the initials PhD. The idea was that while I was getting my doctorate, others were out on the frontlines of this struggle for independence. Moreover, this kūpuna contended that the PhD makes a person more stupid and less Hawaiian. With comments like this, it is not surprising that few Hawaiians go to college, even less to graduate school. After a twenty-minute harangue along these lines, I left the room. I am not perfect, but I know when a tirade is unwarranted.

After starting the ‘Ōlelo television show, “The Hawaiian State of Mind,” sometimes the phrase “host of ‘The Hawaiian State of Mind’” has also been added to the end of my name. The initials “PhD” along with “host of ‘The Hawaiian State of Mind’” seem to have a parasitic effect, draining my real name of its value. I am still “Kūhiō Vogeler,” but “Kūhiō Vogeler, PhD, host of ‘The Hawaiian State of Mind’” is sometimes wanted for political reasons. I still feel uncomfortable about these added accouterments.

Before I had my PhD, people only wanted to know if I like Coke or Pepsi, or if I wanted to sign a petition (with the petitions I always wanted to know the subject well before I signed anything). Now, people want to use my name as if I am a SOMEBODY, with clout. In one example, I was asked to sign onto an OpEd piece. I explained that if the article were about ending the US occupation of Hawai‘i, I would be happy to participate. In this case, the person writing the OpEd piece included my ideas and made me part of the process. I realize that getting a PhD and being on an ‘Ōlelo show places me in the public eye, but it has never fully dawned on me what that means.

With all of us, our actions change the names we use and value of our names. I have many Hawaiian friends, who, like me, are known by their Hawaiian middles names. The Hawaiian name holds a part of their identity, and thus, has enhanced value. I also know of many people who have a long string of initials after their name, academic degrees, hanging on like cans behind a wedding limousine, as if to say, these letters make the name all the more special.

These changes and additions to a name may distract us from our goals. Sometimes people want us to adopt their concerns, their causes, and deter us from the ultimate goal of ending the US occupation of Hawai‘i. Sometimes, by using a name this is the distraction. We need to build coalitions, but coalitions take into consideration the needs all parties involved. Sometimes a new name can facilitate our own distraction. For all of us, our names have value, and we need to be mindful of how that value changes depending on political circumstances.

Recently, I learned that the title, “Kūhiō Vogeler, PhD, host of ‘The Hawaiian State of Mind,’” could have more value than just “Kūhiō Vogeler” and could distract me. This change in value was odd to me, and I did not know how to react initially. A close friend wanted me to support an important environmental measure and asked if she could use my name, “Kūhiō Vogeler, PhD, host of ‘The Hawaiian State of Mind.’” Initially, I did not know of the measure, but this friend needed my name by this week. After several tense emails, although I had family visiting and was quite busy, I read the measure.

In closing, I want to share the email that I sent regarding the use of my name for this environmental measure. The name of the other person involved has been removed because the purpose here is offer an example of how a name can be a distraction, not a specific case, a certain person, or issue. I very much support environmental protections. My concern was not the environmental issue: my concerns were the use of my name to further a cause I knew little about and the adoption of an issue that may distract me from helping to end the US occupation of Hawai‘i. Other than a few minor changes, the following is my response:

Aloha Blah-di-blah,

I read through [the environmental measure]. From what I understand, this [measure] is intended to [help the environment].

You want my name. And this isn’t just my name, “Kūhiō Vogeler,” but “Kūhiō Vogeler, PhD, host of ‘The Hawaiian State of Mind.’” My name would be included in “a list of other organizations and individuals who are working with us on this.” I have just read the bill. The impression would be that I have participated in this process when I have not. And I’m not sure how my “PhD” or my being host of “The Hawaiian State of Mind” add anything to the discussion of the [measure], other than that I’m Hawaiian and that the ‘Ōlelo program is a show about Hawaiian issues.

When I look through this [measure], it isn’t about Hawaiian issues. It’s about [the environment]. Very important concerns. But to make it appear to be about Hawaiian issues by implying that I have participated in this process makes me feel used. If I were to support this effort, my name would be more valuable than our friendship.

I can support it as “Kūhiō Vogeler,” but not as “Kūhiō Vogeler, PhD, host of ‘The Hawaiian State of Mind.’” Hopefully, that is good enough.





  1. Aloha Kuhio:

    Prior to the formulation of teaching Hawaiian language at UH, diacritical marks were never used since it was a first language and people understood or comprehended what was being said. Language speakers felt compel to standardize the written word using diacritical marks to clarify and facilitate new speakers learning the language. I think it’s a necessary tool for clarity in written versions.

    This is why there is difficulty in translating older manuscripts prior to the use of those marks. Over time, some usage have evolved in connotation which can be frustrating because of it. Natural language speakers would have an easier time decifering older written words and the use back then. As a living language, meanings and expressions would evolve with time which make older works more challenging as new slangs, dialects, colloquialisms, words, connotations are used in expressing ourselves.

    Name changes are typical in Hawaiian culture which reflect on different stages in one’s life; thus what you experience is very traditional. This is one reason that make Hawaiian genealogies more difficult to follow if one is not familiar with the name changes of a particular ancestor or ‘ohana.

    You are wise in your reasoning and it’s your perogative on how people use your name. Keep up the good work.

    • Mahalo Tane!

      And mahalo to everyone for your kind words!


  2. I love your honest response in this matter Kuhio. Especially your mana’o and how you explained that at first you never thought much about it but were later able to determine the difference and its purpose of use. I sooo appreciate your taking into consideration letting people know and showing this example of how whether knowingly or unknowingly people do such things. I do hope people take into consideration too that there are such things as etiquette and it is by far better to consider first friendship before all else.

  3. very thoughtful Kūhiō. Mahalo for sharing.

  4. Something many of us should keep in mind these days. Good work.

  5. Kuhio: you are right to keep your eye on the prize–ending the occupation of our Nation by the US. You are my choice for Prime Minister!

    • Aloha Ken,

      You are so kind! But unlike a bunch of other folks who are claiming to be King or whatnot, I’m not looking for any of that. I just want to help.

      Thanks so much for your kind words.


  6. Aloha Kuhio!

    Your thoughts on names brings to mind the times I have worked with some Hawaiian person, almost always someone of mixed ancestry (that is, “part Hawaiian”), usually an advocate for Hawaii nei in some way, shape or form, someone who has volunteered much of his/her own time for various causes to help, only to be told by someone else later (usually in a most cynical way) that the person’s “real name” is such-and-such (some Christian name). This is an attempt to discredit the person who decides to go by his/her Hawaiian name. My response is always the same: “Who cares? Who are we to judge how a person calls his/herself?” Or, is this just a smoke-screen for something else?

    It is my belief that what is really important, more than names, more than ethnicity, race, more than how long one has lived in the islands, is “What are doing for Hawai`i nei? Are you helping to make it better or just taking?”



  7. I know what you mean. Like some people refuse to address me by my correct name which begins with Pretty

  8. nice….

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