Noelani’s story: what’s in a name

This is the first of TMN staff writer Allison Maschoff’s collection of short fiction stories.

Our village was small and its traditions ran deep. The small community only saw a few babies born each year and those children were seen as children of the community more than children of their parents. The village would raise them and so the village had a part in choosing their names.

Boys were named for summer; girls were named for winter. The year of my birth there were three girls born. The first had eyes pale blue color of a winter sky. They named her Kalani, which means heavens. The second was born on the windiest day the village had seen in a long time and so they called her Makani, which means wind. 

I was the third baby girl that year. Three was a good number, the elders said. Three is strong. Some had concerns that we would strengthen winter too much. Many prayed the next year would bring balance through the birth of three healthy boys. Nonetheless, as rain trickled down from the grey December sky, they deemed me Noelani, which means heavenly mist, and completed the trio of sky, wind and rain. 

We grew up together in the village and just as our namesakes were kindred spirits, so were we. My friends’ names seemed to fit them perfectly from the start. Kalani was ever-changing and yet had a sense of stability within her. She could adapt to any situation, but her composed, serene personality always shone through. Makani had shy tendencies — everything she did was quiet. When she wished to have her desires made known, however, she was persistent. And just like a strong wind, she could push any person in any direction she wanted, given the right motivation.

I, on the other hand, felt my name had been chosen incorrectly. I watched silent and brooding every time the rains came and every time I felt saddened and confused. The rain made the village stop: no one could work, no one could play. It left everything cold and muddy. Is that what the elders had expected from me? Sluggishness and frigidity? Oh, how I wished to be named for something lively, such as Makani’s playful wind, or something beautiful, such as Kalani’s painted sky!

One day, when the sky was hazy and the wind was forceful and rain’s smell tainted the air in warning of a storm, I sat by the window of our hale. The grass hut we lived in protected us from the rain and wind, but not from the daunting sound of thunder. My mother was resting, her eyes closed. Thunder rumbled and I ran to her side, my tears spilling over with the first drops of rain. 

“Mama! Why did the elders name me after this awful thing!” My words came out more like an exclamation of grief than a question.

My mother opened her eyes and stared at me in hazy confusion. “What do you mean, Noelani?”

“The rain. It is an awful thing to be named for!”

To my surprise, Mama smiled. She sat up and wrapped me in her arms. She leaned her head against mine and the wispy ends of her chocolate-colored hair brushed against my neck and shoulders. “My dear,” she said, “the rain is not what you think it to be. The rain is a blessing. It means there is still too much warmth in the ground for there to be snow in the village. Rain confines the snow to the high places.”

I remember looking at my mother in awe. What a thought! My namesake was good for the village? Could she possibly be right?

The idea of being named for something warm felt so foreign to me. Girls were named for cold things, like winter. And yet . . . it felt right. Something in me had always felt more tethered to the spring than to the winter. I felt much more alive in April than I did in December. Maybe that’s why the elders had named me for rain. Maybe they had understood after all.