What's in a Name?
Stories Behind Those Five-O Character Names

Hawaii Five-O's creator, Leonard Freeman, had a long running love affair with America's 50th state. His dream was to film a show on location in the islands, rather than on some Hollywood backlot. And when he finally achieved his goal, he used puns and inside jokes to name the local characters. Here is a short key to understanding the character names on Hawaii Five-O, as well as the real names of the actors who brought them to life.

The demands of network television required that the lead characters of Five-O be played by haole (white) actors. Jack Lord (real name: John Joseph Patrick Ryan) strode to TV immortality as Steve McGarrett. His loyal assistant, Dan (Danno) Williams, was ably played by James MacArthur (son of stage great Helen Hayes and playwright Charles MacArthur).

The other two members of the Five-O team were played by local actors. Zulu (real name: Gilbert Pauhi) took on the role of Kono Kalakaua. Kono is simply the Hawaiian equivalent of "John." The surname "Kalakaua" is a tribute to one of Hawaii's most popular kings, King David Kalakaua, whose fun-loving personality earned him the nickname "The Merry Monarch." Indeed, in early press materials, Kono was described as a descendant of Hawaiian royalty, though this was seldom dealt with on the show (it was alluded to in "The Big Kahuna"). Kalakaua is also the name of the main street in Waikiki.

The other local actor was Kam Fong (real name: Kam Fong Chun), who played Chin Ho Kelly. Chin's name was an inside joke. It was an amalgam of two of Waikiki's most prominent hotel developers, Chinn Ho and Roy Kelley.

When Zulu (who later changed his name to Zoulou) left the show at the end of the fourth season, he was replaced by two new characters. Ben Kokua was played by Al Harrington, born Tauasu Ta'a in American Samoa. He started going by the name of Alvin when his family moved to Hawaii when he was three, and in high school he took his stepfather's name to become Al Harrington. His character, Ben Kokua, bears a last name that means "help" in Hawaiian.

The other new character was Duke Lukela, played by Herman Wedemeyer. Many Five-O fans are surprised when they first see Wedemeyer's Teutonic name, but it's merely a product of Hawaii's tradition of cosmopolitan marriages. Indeed, the surname Wedemeyer is so well-known as a local name in Hawaii that it has completely lost its German connotations. The first name of Wedemeyer's character, Duke, comes from the athlete who was perhaps the most famous Hawaiian of all-time, Duke Kahanamoku. Olympic gold-medalist and father of surfing, the beloved Duke was Hawaii's "ambassador of aloha" most of his long life.

In one of Wedemeyer's early appearances on Five-O (in the episode "And I Want Some Candy and a Gun That Shoots), he was even called "Duke Kahana." By the time he joined as a regular, his character's last name was Lukela, which means "Lutheran" in Hawaiian. It would have been interesting to know Freeman's thinking behind this choice of a name, but we learn only that Duke is "from old missionary stock" and little else to explain why Freeman chose this surname, which is not an unusual one in Hawaii.

   Back to the home page