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Pearlridge Shopping Center adopts Hawaiian name

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    Dancers from the Halau Hula Olana perform at the grand opening of Pearlridge Center Wai Makai, Friday, in Aiea.

Buildings at a shopping mall on Oahu have been renamed in the Hawaiian language amid a growing trend of Hawaii businesses adopting Hawaiian names.

The Pearlridge Shopping Center has adopted the name Wai Makai for its complex formerly known as Downtown after more than 20 years in operation.

The company worked with landowner Kamehameha Schools, community leaders and Native Hawaiian consulting firm DTL before deciding on a name, said Diana Su-Niimi, the mall’s marketing director.

“A lot of people might be confused with the name,” Su-Niimi said. “But what they don’t realize is that underneath Pearlridge Center, especially this Downtown building, is actually a natural spring. And it’s only right that we pay tribute to the wai (water).”

The makai part is because the complex is closer to the sea than the rest of the center, Su-Niimi said.

More businesses have come to appreciate Hawaiian language and culture as a “value add,” said Lehua Kauhane, who runs community engagement for the consulting firm.

Other businesses have incorporated Hawaiian into their operations in recent years, like the Bank of Hawaii, which offers Hawaiian as a language option on its ATMs.

“When we think about the market we serve, Hawaii is our market, and we wanted to honor the traditions and culture of Hawaii, which of course includes the language,” said Eric Chen, the bank’s senior vice president of digital banking.

Hawaiian language is selected thousands of times per month across the bank’s network of 400 ATMs, Chen said.

Concern about appropriation can creep up anytime culture and language intertwine with business and profits, said Kawika Tengan, ethnic studies professor at the University of Hawaii.

Consulting with the community is key to keeping those concerns in check, he said.

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