Wherever they go around the world, New Zealanders find themselves referred to as ‘kiwis’. This unusual national nickname comes from the kiwi, a flightless bird native to New Zealand. The same animal also gave its name to the kiwifruit, another common symbol of New Zealand.
Five species of kiwi inhabit the islands of New Zealand. The name ‘kiwi’ comes from the Maori, the indigenous population of New Zealand. The Maori name ‘kiwi’ represents the sound of the bird’s cry. Europeans first learned of the kiwi in the early 19th century. European settlement in New Zealand both brought the bird to wider international attention and threatened its habitat. Deforestation, as well as imported predators such as dogs, put kiwi at risk; today, conservation efforts are under way to ensure the survival of the species. The kiwi is native only to New Zealand, making it a common symbol for the country. Beginning in the late 19th century, the image of the Kiwi began to appear on stamps in New Zealand as well as in the heraldry of military units from the islands, which were then part of the British empire. The use of kiwi symbols by soldiers from New Zealand serving alongside British troops in the First World War may be the origin of the nickname “kiwi” for a person from New Zealand.
Kiwifruit also take their name from the kiwi. The name kiwifruit comes from an advertising campaign of the 1960s intended to make the fruit more appealing to customers around the world. Originally known as the Chinese gooseberry, this fruit was briefly renamed the melonette before advertisers settled on “kiwifruit”. The name plays on the fruit’s origins – although varieties of kiwifruit are found throughout the Pacific Rim – and on the fruit’s distinctive brown, fibrous skin, which resembles the kiwi’s feathers.