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Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani Middle School restores its name on the princess's birthday

princess ruth keʻelikōlani middle school mural
Zoe Dym
A mural of Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani by Honolulu based artist, Ran Noveck. The mural celebrates Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani Middle School restoring its name.

Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani was born on February 9, 1826. Nearly 200 years later, the students and teachers of former Central Middle School celebrated her birthday by restoring the school's original name in honor of the princess.

Local film director Ann Marie Kirk participated in the name change committee as a community member. At the name changing celebration, she said, "In 1916, it was named Keʻelikōlani School, but something happens. In 1927, the name was changed because as reported in the newspaper, 'This name proved too difficult for the Anglo-Saxon and Oriental tongues,' and Central Grammer, the school has been renamed." 

"She would only speak and want to be addressed in Hawaiian, and though taught Christianity, she did not practice it. Puakea Nogelmeier wrote of her, 'She became an icon to many people, especially the makaʻāinana, or common folk, who saw her as a mainstay of tradition in a time of sweeping changes, diminishing population, and the loss of customary practice,'" Kirk said.

The name change committee has been working toward the renaming since 2019. The Board of Education approved the decision in September 2021.

Principal Joseph Passantino said not everyone was in favor of the change.

"There were some alumni that say, 'We don’t want to lose what Central was, like that’s how we know who we are,'" Passantino said. "So their education of those people would talk about it’s not that you’re losing who you are, it’s a validity to the aliʻi that lived in this space, and it’s a second chapter as we continue to grow and get better."

Signs that say “Central Middle School” will be replaced with bright red and yellow signs to symbolize the colors of Hawaiian royalty. All new signage will read “Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani Middle School.”

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