There are a couple of different stories on how the ‘ukulele got it’s name. While at times it seems to be a vague history, the variety weaves a tapestry of stories that makes for a good afternoon reading.
As we know the Portuguese were amongst the many cultures to arrive in Hawaii. With them and the knowledge of a small four stringed instrument known as a braguinha, the first ‘ukulele was made.
‘Ukulele is made up of the two words ‘uku and lele. ‘Uku is means flea while lele means to run, hop, or jump. These are the words that came to mind when people saw the ‘ukulele being played. Fast strumming and jumping up and down the neck appeared to be fleas jumping and running. That’s one of the many reasons the ‘ukulele acquired it’s “nickname” the jumping flea!
The last monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom, Queen Lili’oukalani, is a known songstress writing hundreds of songs including the famous Aloha ‘Oe. During her reign, she decided that the ‘ukulele needed an updated interpretation. Since many Hawaiian words have different meanings for the same word, she discovered an alternate understanding for the word ‘ukulele. She dubbed it, “The Gift to Come,” since the ‘ukulele was brought to the Hawaiian people and with it a gift to Hawaiian music.
So as we may fondly know our ‘ukulele as our fun jumping flea of a friend, it is also a gift that Queen Lili’oukalani and many others have used to write many beautiful songs.
Until we meet again!