Have you ever wondered about the origins or kiwifruit or where it got its name? I didn’t think so. Neither did I. But when I read that the plant was renamed with an eye on the American market, I had to look into the matter.
Kiwis — the fruits, not the slang word for New Zealanders or the name for the fuzzy bird — is a native of China where it was known as yang tao, roughly translated as “sheep peach.” It was also known as monkey peach, macaque pear, vine pear, sun peach and wood berry. (Wood berry makes most sense since the fruit is a berry of a woody vine genus that is widespread in Asia.) Recently, the Chinese name for “strange fruit,” a translation of kiwifruit, has become common in Taiwan and Hong Kong. (I’ve heard it said that what goes around comes around, and apparently this is true of cultivated fruit and fruit names as well as the rest of human activities.)
When yang tao seeds were brought to New Zealand in the early part of the twentieth century, the new cultivators renamed the fruit “Chinese Gooseberries” or “melonettes.” At the beginning, it was mostly a novelty plant for gardens and small markets. Through cultivation, the fruit became bigger and sweeter, and its appeal grew. In the nineteen fifties, the growers wanted to expand their sales to the United States, but neither of these names were acceptable for the American market. They couldn’t call the fruit “Chinese Gooseberry” because the United States was in the midst of a cold war, and anything smacking of Communism was immediate death. Nor could they call it “melonette” because the United States had high tariffs for melons. Someone (several people claim the honor so there’s no point in naming names) came up with the label “kiwifruit” after the small brown fuzzy New Zealand bird, which distanced the fruit even further from its Chinese past. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, the ploy worked, and now kiwis are a staple of most people’s diet, but not mine. I don’t particularly like the fruit, no matter what its name. It seems to me the fruits are again becoming small and not very sweet, but most people still buy it.
Now that I think about it, the original appellation of “sheep peach” is a good name for the fruit. Like sheep, we were herded where the marketers wanted us to go.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.