'The Nation's Ukulele Orchestra'
BBC News, Radio 4, 23rd September 2014
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How did the ukulele get its name?

It could be that in 1879 in Honolulu, Joao Fernandes, who had just disembarked from Madeira, played the braguina with such virtuosity and speed that the Hawaiians, impressed with his jumping fingers, called the instrument the "ukulele", meaning dancing flea. But then according to Queen Lili'uokalani the name means "the gift that came here", made from "uku" (gift or reward) and "lele" (to come). Perhaps the name comes from "ukeke lele" or "dancing ukeke" (the ukeke is a Hawaiian musical bow). Some say that Edward Purvis, an English army officer, who was a small man and an agile braguina player, was himself nicknamed "ukulele" and the name later became connected to the instrument itself. Then again, it could be that Gabriel Davian and Judge W. L. Wilcox coined and translated the name, joking that the way one scratched at it, the instrument must have been a jumping flea.

One thought on “How did the ukulele get its name?”

  • Joils

    Actually the name "Ukelele" comes from the portuguese language: O que é aquele/aquilo, meaning: what is that?

    Much like the Word: Kangaroo/Kinguru, meaning (i don't know) aboriginee, asked by one british sailor to an aboriginal: Pointing the animal and asking "what is that" where the aboriginal answered "I don't know"

    Reply
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