English: Acacia koa (habit). Location: Maui, M...

There’s more to this name than you might guess.

Thanks to Kelia for suggesting Koa as our Baby Name of the Day.

I was dismissive of Koa the first time I heard it.  Noah plus the letter K?  What’s next, Kezra?


Koa is, beyond anything else, a tree.  They’re all over Hawaii – the photo shows koa trees on Maui.  The wood has been used for everything from furniture to canoes to guitars.  It’s  a member of the Fabaceae family – the pea family, meaning that koa trees are more closely related to soybeans and peanuts than oak trees.  But you wouldn’t know it at a glance – they grow quite tall, and while they do produce fruit, but it doesn’t appear to be edible.

As a nature name, Koa is worth a second glance.  After all, tree names are having their moment in the sun.

But there’s more.

Koa has some history of use as a boys’ name in Hawaii.  I can’t gauge exactly how much.  Koa can be short for a few longer masculine names: Kekoa, Kainoa and Nakoa come to mind.  Let’s say that he’s not in the state’s Top 100, but he’s familiar enough to make his way into mainstream baby name books.

I’ve seen the meaning given as strong, brave and also warrior.

He’s been gaining steadily since the 1990s.  That tracks with the rise of Noah.  Parents could be hearing the name in a few places:

  • Competitive surfer Koa Smith was born in Hawaii.  Another use for koa wood?  Surfboards.
  • Maui-based professional baseball team Na Koa Ikaika Maui was formed in 2010.  Their name translates to “The Maui Strong Warriors.”
  • No Doubt’s Tom Dumont has three boys: Ace Joseph, Rio Atticus, and Koa Thomas.

The musician seems to have inspired others.  In 2010, 75 boys received the name.  In 2011, there were 88 Koas added to the US – including the youngest Dumont.  In 2012, 117 newborns were given the name.

There’s a lot to like about Koa:

  • Nature names are huge for kids these days.
  • Ends-with-a names for boys are mainstream, from Old Testament appellations like Josiah and Ezra to imports like Luca.
  • Noah has been a Top 100 name since 1995, and a Top Ten choice since 2009.  At #4 in 2012, it is safe to say that plenty of parents like this sound for a son.
  • K remains a stylish letter – in nouveau names like Kayden, re-spellings like Kaleb, and modern classics like Kyle.  Koa falls somewhere in between all of those categories.
  • We’re in an age when parents don’t mind borrowing from other cultures.  A name’s status as Hawaiian may make it more appealing – look at the success of choices like Kai in recent years.

All of this makes Koa the kind of name that would fit right in on a 21st century playground.  He’s modern, but he has roots.  It’s hard to argue with his name’s meaning.  If you’re after something just a little bit different, Koa could make for a distinctive choice.

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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. We plan on naming our baby boy Koa this October 🙂 still on the hunt for a middle name though if anyone has suggestions!

  2. Our little boy Koa was born in August 2013 and he is as brave and fearless as his name suggests. His big brother is Yerin so we were looking for something equally as unusual although he has become “Kokie” as his brother couldn’t say Koa

  3. We are naming our little girl Koa. My husband thinks its more a boys name but i like it for a girl 🙂

  4. Loving the write up on Koa, our little boy Koa was born on the 4th July this year. We chose the name as we love Polynesia and wanted something a bit different that had a tropical feel to it. We are both surfers and my husband is a carpenter so the name ticked all the boxes for us.

  5. My son’s name is Koa! He was born in March of this year, and a friend who’s obsessed with names as I am sent me a link to this post. We chose it because we liked the sound of it, liked the “warrior” meaning, and didn’t want a name that needed an initial after it to differentiate him from his classmates. His older brother’s name is Adlai. Thqnks for sharing more about the name! I learned some things I didn’t know.

    1. Adlai & Koa – what great names! Never would’ve imagined them together, but they do make for a great pair. Would love to hear the other names you considered! 🙂

  6. Oh yay! I’m so glad you covered Koa. It was brought to my attention by Tom Dumont. I love Noah, but the popularity turns me off quite a bit. I also love nature names so that’s a plus and also read that it means brave. People might assume that Koa is a knockoff of Noah, but happy it can stand alone with it’s own meaning, associations and history.

    Koa just seems so strong and handsome, with a laid-back beach vibe and simplicity that is too hard to resist. <3 Rio and Koa as a sibset too, although I prefer River, nn Rio. Thanks again Abby!

  7. I could swear there’s another celebrity with a son named Koa. I can’t find him on any of the celebrity baby sites, but I still remember hearing the name years before Tom Dumont used the name. For some reason, I think the couple was either lived in Hawaii or they were filming something in Hawaii at the time…

    Anyways, I think the name was really striking.

  8. This is such a fantastic name – it’s cool and laid-back, but it has a bit of power to it as well. It seems usable for so many different types of families too.

    In Australia, Koa has a history as a female name, because it is the Maori word for “joy”, but the boys are getting in on the act now because of the Polynesian name.