The name of an app that helps users access sexually transmitted disease test information will not be changed from “Hula” despite an online petition asking that it be replaced, the CEO of the company said Wednesday.
Ramin Bastani said his company did not mean to offend anyone when the app was named for the Hawaiian art form, and he “deeply apologizes.”
Bastani said that when his Los Angeles-based company learned about concerns of Hawaiians last month, any reference to the app helping users “get lei’d” was erased from the Hula website.
The way he views it, he said, the app is all about health care — and health care is beautiful. “The name Hula evokes a sense of calm and beauty,” he said. “The dance is a communications tool — and we’re a communications tool.”
But one of the authors of the petition said it sounds like Bastani is merely trying to justify the decision to prevent a name change.
“It’s still inappropriate,” said hula dancer Alexander “Alika” Guerrero, one of three college students of Native Hawaiian ancestry who penned the petition. “I appreciate him removing ‘getting lei’d’ from the marketing scheme, but the name still misrepresents what hula is.”
More than 950 people have signed the change.org petition that says naming the app after the sacred dance co-opts the Hawaiian culture and is disrespectful.
More than 300 people have sign the petition since a story about the controversy appeared Wednesday in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Bastani also responded to the petition online with an apology, adding that “we are taking your communications very seriously.”
“We have already taken steps to gain a better understanding of hula, the Hawaiian culture and its history. We have been in touch with several people that have reached out to us, including Dr. Diane Paloma on a weekly basis,” he wrote.
Paloma, the director of Native Hawaiian health for the Queen’s Health Systems, was unavailable for comment this week.
Bastani said the company name was changed from Qpid.me to Hula six months ago because it sounded too similar to a dating site and because it fit with the launch of the iPhone app.
The connection between helping people easily access their STD test information and helping them “get lei’d” was only a “tiny” part of why the app’s name was changed to Hula, he said.
Bastani conceded that he appeared in public forums wearing a multicolored plastic lei and playing up the connection between the app and “getting lei’d.” But that, he said, has stopped.
In the meantime, the app has gotten nationwide buzz while being featured in Time, Forbes, Scientific American, Men’s Health and other publications.
Bastani said Paloma first contacted the company with her concerns last month.
“This was a complete shock to us,” he said.
He said references to “getting lei’d” were removed immediately and the company began communicating with Paloma on a weekly basis to better understand the issues.
But a name change is not in the offing, he said, because the name “‘Hula’ correctly conveys a lot of what the app is.”
The petition objecting to the app’s name was started in February by three former Kamehameha Schools Maui students who are now attending college: Guerrero of the University of Hawaii-Hilo, Kaio Tubera of the University of Rochester and Kelly Luis of Columbia University.
The petition says hula is a sacred art form that holds the language, history, music and traditions of the Hawaiian people.
Luis said naming the app Hula is a misappropriation of Hawaiian culture and especially distasteful considering the fact Europeans introduced gonorrhea and syphilis to the islands that led to the decimation of 300,000 Hawaiians, according to the petition.