Back when Isabel Fraser brought New Zealand’s first kiwifruit seeds over from China in 1904, the fruits were known by the Chinese name, yang tao, but New Zealanders soon began using a local term, calling the furry fruits Chinese gooseberries.
In 1959, the name Chinese gooseberry was changed again, becoming kiwifruit, after New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi – small, brown and furry, like the fruit.
The decision was made when New Zealand growers were ready to export kiwifruit to North America. They needed a term that would help establish the new fruit in the newly opening American export market and elsewhere around the world.
The name change was spurred by an American importer, Norman Sondag of the Ziel Company in San Francisco. Turners and Growers, who were leading exporters of the day, had sent him the berries under the novel name “melonettes,” which for his business was even worse than calling them “Chinese gooseberries,” as both melons and berries attracted high duties at the time.
So at a company meeting in Sir Harvey Turner’s office in June 1959, Jack Turner came up with the name “kiwifruit.” They tried it out on Norman Sondag, and he liked it – thought it would be a real winner and began using it immediately.
And that is how the kiwifruit got its name.