Noah Webster (1758-1843) was the man of words in early 19th-century America. He compiled a dictionary which became the standard for American English; he also compiled The American Spelling Book, which was the basic textbook for young readers in early 19th-century America. The Speller’s Preface notes the priority in learning, “The syllables of words are divided as they are pronounced, and for this obvious reason, that children learn the language by the ear.”
And so it was with the American Protestant Missionaries teaching the Hawaiians to read and write their own language. Just as American schoolchildren spelled aloud by naming the letters that formed the first syllable, and then pronouncing the result: “b, a – ba,” so did Hawaiian learners. (However, back then, Webster used ‘y’ as a vowel; the missionaries did not.) The Hawaiian version also used the names of the letters and the resultant syllable: bē ā – bā; by 1824, this had become the Hawaiian word for ‘alphabet’. However, after b had been eliminated from the alphabet, p took its place in this new name.