Kiwi (people)

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A Kiwi holding a kiwi

Kiwi is the nickname used internationally for people from New Zealand,[1][2] as well as being a relatively common self-reference.[3] The name derives from the kiwi, a flightless bird, which is native to—and the national symbol of—New Zealand. Unlike many demographic labels, its usage is not considered offensive; it is generally viewed as a symbol of pride and endearment for the people of New Zealand.[4]


RNZAF roundel, featuring an outline of a kiwi bird

In the early 1900s New Zealanders—including soldiers and the All Blacks—were referred to as "En Zed(der)s",[5] or "Maorilanders" (referring to the indigenous Māori, and their historical contribution to the country).[6] These terms were still in usage near the end of the First World War. However, although New Zealand soldiers were often described as "Diggers" or "Pig Islanders", by 1917 they were also being called "Kiwis".[5][7]

The image of the kiwi had appeared on military badges since the South Canterbury Battalion used it in 1886,[8] and it was taken up by several regiments in the First World War. "Kiwi" came to mean first the men of New Zealand regiments.[5] The nickname is not thought to have originated as a reference to the physical attributes of the New Zealand servicemen (i.e. implying they were short and stocky like the bird). It was simply that the kiwi was distinct and unique to the country,[5] and also featured prominently on the New Zealand armed forces symbols.[4][9]

Chalk kiwi above the town of Bulford, c. 1918

Many New Zealand troops stayed in Europe (particularly at Sling Camp, near Bulford on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, where they carved a chalk kiwi into the nearby hill in 1918)[10] for months or years until transport home could be arranged. Their presence popularised the nickname within Europe.[5]

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first use of the Kiwi to mean New Zealander in 1918, in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force Chronicles.[citation needed] The nickname eventually became common usage in all war theatres.[5]

An Australian boot polish called Kiwi was widely used in the imperial forces. Its founder, William Ramsay, named the polish in honour of his wife's birthplace, New Zealand.[5] The Australian National Dictionary[11] also gives the first use of the term "Kiwi Kids" and "Kiwis" in 1917, to mean Australian army recruits who had kiwied up; in other words, they had highly polished boots.[12]

Following World War II the term was gradually attributed to all New Zealanders and today, throughout the world they are referred to as Kiwis, as well as often referring to themselves that way.[2][3]

Current usage[edit]

Spelling of the word Kiwi, when used to describe the people, is often capitalised, and takes the plural form Kiwis. The bird's name is spelled with a lower-case k and, being a word of Māori origin, normally stays as kiwi when pluralised.[citation needed] Thus, two Kiwis refers to two people, whereas two kiwi refers to two birds. This linguistic nicety is well exemplified by the BNZ Save the Kiwi Conservation Trust, which uses the slogan "Kiwis for kiwi".[13]

See also[edit]

  • Kiwiana, items or icons particular to New Zealand
  • Kiwifruit, fruit associated with New Zealand, but not native to it, which is also known as the "Chinese Gooseberry"
  • Māori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand
  • Pākehā, non-Māori (especially European) New Zealanders
  • .kiwi, an internet domain name


  1. ^ "the definition of kiwis". Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  2. ^ a b "Kiwi". New Zealand Department of Conservation. Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  3. ^ a b "Kiwis/Kiwi - New Zealand Immigration Service (Summary of Terms)". Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  4. ^ a b Norah, Laurence. "Kiwis, Poms and other naming mysteries". Finding the Universe. Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Phillips, Jock (July 2012). "Kiwi - Kiwi and people: early history". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  6. ^ Phillips, Jock (March 2009). "The New Zealanders - Maorilanders". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 27 February 2011. 
  7. ^ "Kiwi - A kiwi country: 1930s–2000s". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 2011-05-24. Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  8. ^ Phillips, Jock (24 September 2007). "South Canterbury Battalion badge". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  9. ^ Jock, Phillips (24 September 2007). "RNZAF Harvard". Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 4 June 2017. 
  10. ^ "The White Horses". Retrieved 2012-09-13. 
  11. ^ ed. Bill Ramson (2008). "Australian National Dictionary". Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand. 
  12. ^ Ramson, Bill (1993). Of Pavlova, Poetry, and Paradigms. Victoria University Press. 
  13. ^ "Kiwis for kiwi". New Zealand Department of Conservation. Retrieved 4 June 2017.