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Native fruit names in First Languages
Q: I am writing an article on native fruits for
national publication, specifically the wild
persimmon, pawpaw, and wild strawberry. All
three of these fruits were very important to many First
peoples, and it is a question of respect and
historical veracity to begin the article with the
Native names. Could you please help me with some
words and spelling for these fruits? I
know that "persimmon"
and "pawpaw" are already Native words, but these are
the anglicized versions
and I was wondering what the "originals" were and
how they would be spelt.
A: Well, "persimmon" comes from an Algonquian word, but
it's not really the name of that particular kind of fruit. It's a
general word that means "dried fruit." I guess the English
must have thought they were talking about the species
of fruit when they were really talking about how it
was prepared. The word "pawpaw" was brought to North
America by the Spanish, who had picked it up in the
Caribbean, where it means "fruit" (the word "papaya"
comes from the same origin).
In Cherokee, the word for persimmon fruit is Sali
(pronounced sah-lee). Strawberry is Ani (pronounced
ah-nee). But Maryellen doesn't know a word for
pawpaws. In Choctaw, persimmon fruit is Unkof
(pronounced un-kofe), pawpaw is Umbi (pronounced
um-bee), and strawberry is Biyunka (pronounced
bee-yun-kah). Every language had its own words for
Hope that helps!
Native Languages of the Americas
Q: I had no
idea the pawpaw word comes from Spanish. I have
read other texts that said
it was Native.
A: Indirectly, it is. "Papaya" is a Spanish corruption of
an Arawakan (native Caribbean) word for fruit. Spanish
colonists in North America also used it to mean
"Indian fruit," and "pawpaw" and "papaw" are English
corruptions of this Spanish corruption of a native
But no Native Americans who lived in the areas where
pawpaws actually grow had any idea what the Europeans
were talking about. :-)
Have a good day!
Native American words
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