Indian languages * Native American Indian cultures * Find Native American ancestors in your family tree

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.

Sponsored Links

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 things.

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 Caribbean word.

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!

Related Links

 Native American words
 Native American food
 Persimmon legends
 Strawberry legends

Give us feedback (or ask a question of your own!)
Back to our Native American mail

Would you like to help support our organization's work with endangered American Indian languages?

Native Languages of the Americas website 1998-2015 * Contacts and FAQ page