Hula CEO and founder Ramin Bastani told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his Los Angeles-based company is working hard to understand concerns raised by some in the Native Hawaiian community.
An online petition, which had more than 700 signatures on change.org, says the name exploits a beloved cultural art form.
Bastani said he immediately removed any references to "getting lei'd" when concerns were brought to his attention by a Native Hawaiian health expert last month.
"We didn't realize that it was offensive," he said. "We removed any connection to it."
But the name "Hula" will remain, he said: "We want to do the right thing. Changing the name, for us, doesn't make sense."
The petition was started by three college students who went to high school at Kamehameha Schools, which gives admission preference to students with Native Hawaiian ancestry, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. The petition notes that the arrival of Europeans exposed Native Hawaiians to foreign diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis.
"My culture is more than a tourist destination," Kelly Luis, a student at Columbia University, told the newspaper. "It is more than a place to go for the summer. It's more than just sexy hula girls on the beach. There is a culture there."
The app was originally named Qpid.me, but it sounded too similar to a dating site and was changed to "Hula" because the company wanted to evoke a "sense of beauty and being relaxed," Bastani said. "It was a pop culture sense of the name."
"We loved the idea of calm and beauty of anything Hawaiian," he said, "which is the antithesis of anything having to do with health care."
Learning about Hawaiian culture has taught him that dancing hula is a "communication tool" used to pass on information among generations, Bastani said. "That plays very well with what we actually believe as the core of the company."
The free app is described as a "simple way to obtain and share your verified STD results," and Bastani said the company is "focused on improving personal health and helping people make better health decisions."
Bastani said he apologizes to anyone who has been offended and that he never meant any harm. He also noted that there have been some Native Hawaiians and others in Hawaii who are supportive of the name.
"We're a very small company that doesn't make money at this point," Bastani said.
In the past, he has worn a lei when making presentations about the company, he said.
"Now that we know that's an insensitive way of doing it, it's not something we'll do anymore," Bastani said.