“I’m sorry, what?”

These are just some of the responses I get when I tell people my name. My mother says that when she named her children, she wanted to pick names that people in any country would be able to pronounce. She wanted us to be able to go through life without being burdened by a confusing name. That certainly made sense given how much we moved around as children.

My sister, Maya, has had her share of problems, too, but now that her name is not uncommonly given to baby girls, she doesn’t struggle quite as much. I, on the other hand, have spent my entire life responding to people’s quizzical looks, spelling my name out slowly and repeatedly, and even in some cases, having to insist that yes, I actually was sure that you spell my name K-A-L-A, no R, no Y, no double L, and yes, a K. So I have decided to write a little blurb about the word Kala and some of its origins and meanings from around the world. Given that Kala means so many things in so many languages, I feel I must say a few words about where my mother found the name.

Kala is the last part of the name of a volcano on Maui, an island in the state of Hawai’i, where I am from. The volcano’s full name is Haleakala, which, in Hawaiian, means “House of the Sun.” It is this meaning – sunshine – that was intended for me when I was named.

Thank goodness for the Internet. Much of the information below was obtained through online research. Here are a few other meanings for the word Kala:

1.  Kala (Hawaiian):
-giving ultimate freedom to another
-money or currency
-a type of fish (surgeonfish, unicorn fish)
-to loosen, untie, free, release, remove, unburden, absolve, let go, acquit, take off, undo
-to proclaim, announce
-to forgive, pardon, excuse
-to substitute for
-counter-sorcery or sorcerer, proclamation, public crier, announcer
-prayer to free one from any evil influence
-to practice counter-sorcery
-long ago, quite a while ago
-gable (architectural term)
-prickly poppy
-a sweet potato
-a tern (a seabird of the gull family)

2. Kala (Hindu): The 64 Kalas is the classical curriculum of sacred sciences, studies, arts and skills listed in various Hindu shastra.

3. Kala (Hindu): Kala, in a Hindu context can also mean time or the God of Death.

4. Kala (Hindu/Sanskrit – pronounced several different ways, but with only these four letters in this order. These are only some meanings of the word):
-intrinsic property
-castor seed
-machine, engine
-the two sides inside ones mouth
-a period of defined time
-Yama, the god of death and descendent of Mahavishnu
-the assigned period of life
-a maharshi in Indra’s assembly

5. Kala (Javanese):  Kala is an ancient measure of time.  The ancient Javanese culture sometimes refers to the process of growing old as being eaten by Kala. In Javanese mythology, Kala is the god of destruction, husband to Durga. Kala is depicted as giant, born of the sperm of Bathara Guru, the kings of gods.

6. Kala (Finnish/Estonian): fish

7. Kala (Greek): beautiful

8. Kala (in film): a character in the Tarzan novels and the 1999 Disney movie of the same name

9. Kala (Hebrew, with an accent on the final “a”): bride

10. Kala (American Indian dialect – unspecific): spring of water