Kiwis, Poms and other naming mysteries

Me and a Kiwi. The Kiwi was not forthcoming with informationToday’s article is a bit of holiday fun which answers a question that has been nagging at the back of my mind for a while now and I decided needed answering. Enjoy!

A Kiwi, depending on the subject being discussed, is a bird native to New Zealand, a fruit that is grown in New Zealand, or a person that comes from New Zealand. And unlike the term Pom, Kiwis are more than happy to refer to themselves as such.

This got me wondering. Where did the term originate from, and why is it in such popular usage? And why is it deemed an acceptable name to call oneself, whereas Pom is not? Naturally, I assumed the answer was to be found on the internet, so to Google I turned.

While I was there, I thought I’d look up some other commonly used nicknames for nationalities, and see how they originated. Because if I'm going to be labelled a Pom, I need to know why!

600px-Rnzaf_roundel.svgIt turns out that in the case of the Kiwi, the bird came before the person, which in turn came before the fruit. The Kiwi bird, a national and easily recognisable symbol of New Zealand, features prominently on the New Zealand armed forces symbols, and it was from this that the nickname arose. To start with it only referred to those people in uniform, but by the end of the second world war it had become associated with pretty much everyone from New Zealand.

Perhaps having the name associated with both a unique national symbol and the armed forces has meant that it has been widely and proudly adopted in New Zealand as a way to identify oneself as being from New Zealand. It’s certainly not seen as a slur.

You are probably also wondering, having named both a bird and a people with this term, surely a fruit was going a bit far? Well, it turns out that this was all just a marketing ploy. Once the term Kiwi was in common parlance and associated with New Zealand, rebranding the Chinese Gooseberry - as the Chinese native Kiwi fruit was originally known – in order to ship more of this product was almost inevitable. This happened back in 1962, and the name has stuck pretty much ever since, with a quarter of the world’s Kiwi fruit production being in New Zealand.

That therefore was Kiwi, first the bird, then the people, then the fruit. Now, onto some other nationalities!

Canadian FlagI’m going to be honest with you, I hadn’t really heard the term Canuck being applied to Canadians much until I started reading travel blogs, and I noticed some of the bigger names in Canadian travel blogging labelling themselves with this term. A bit more reading later, and I realised that it’s an incredibly ubiquitous term for a person of Canadian origin, and as with Kiwi, is more often than not a positive label. The Canadian mens Rugby team, for example, are officially nicknamed the Canucks, and there are multiple other places it can be easily found in use.

Unlike Kiwi, however, the origins of the term are not quite so clear cut. One widely accepted explanation is that it derived from various mispronunciations of the French phrase “quelle canule”, which was in common use back in the 1770’s, and meant “what a bore!” The mispronunciation of the word canule is often attributed to it being cold, with the resulting shivering playing havoc with vocal capabilities. That, or French with an American accent is just a bit tricky to understand.

Another theory is that it is a happy mash up of the words “Canadian” and “inuk”, an Inuit word meaning “man”. Which seems a bit more plausible to me. Still, I think it’s a pretty funky nickname.. and somewhat better than what I end up being labelled.. which is:

Phone box in London, Autumn The nickname ‘Pom’, which is used mostly by Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans to describe folks of British origin, generally doesn’t sit too well with most British people, although it’s not totally clear why. We are, after all, happy as a nation to label ourselves with all kinds of weird regional names, such as Geordie, Mackem, Brummie and Scouser. (For those of you not familiar with the UK, those refer to folks from Newcastle, Sunderland, Birmingham and Liverpool respectively.)

Some research has indicated that the origins of the term are a little bit vague. It is possibly a reference to the convict history of Australia, where P.O.M.E may have stood for Prisoner of Mother England. Another theory has it that it is a shortened version of Pomegranate, with the idea being that most British people take on the hue of a Pomegranate when exposed to the Australian climate. Further credence is added to this theory when you take into account the fact that Pomegranate was once Australian rhyming slang for immigrant.

These days the term Pom is largely an acceptable label, and if not acceptable, certainly inevitable if you are of British origin, and from what I can tell, there is no malice intended in the nickname, at least not from anyone I have met. Taking the piss, after all, is a traditional and more than acceptable Australian / Kiwi pastime.

The Australian advertising authority certainly believes this to be the case anyway, having ruled in 2006 that Pom was an acceptable label for us Brits, and the New Zealand advertising authority went the same way in 2010. So I guess it’s going to stick for a while to come. Still, it could be worse, I reckon Pom is somewhat better than Limey or Rosbif… which are other rather unfortunate nicknames for us Brits abroad.

What do you think of these nicknames? Are you proud to be labelled a Pom, a Kiwi, a Canuck, or whatever else? Or does it grate at your very soul whenever someone refers to you as such? Let me know in the comments below!

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1 comment :

  1. Most interesting. "Yankee" or "Yank" or "Yanqui" is an odd name. Where did it originate? It could mean a citizen Of the USA, one raised north of the Mason - Dixon line, or one from New England, or even a member of a certain baseball team, depending on context...


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