The eggplant is a plant native to India and Pakistan that has found its way into the hearts of many vegetarians in the United States. This purple fruit (which is eaten as a vegetable) is similar in texture and shape to the tomato and the potato; its popularity has spread throughout the world. What we call an eggplant is called by many other names by English and non-English speakers in various parts of the globe.
The name "eggplant" was given to the fruit by Europeans sometime in the mid-18th century. The size and shape of the fruit was similar to those of goose eggs. At the time, the eggplant was more white and yellow than today's purple-skinned fruit, leading to an even closer comparison of the eggplant to an egg.
In Britain, the eggplant is called an aubergine. This name has gone through many linguistic changes since it began as "vatingana" in Sanskrit. Henri Leclerc wrote about this transformation in his 1925 book, "Les Fruits de France," noting that "vatingana” changed to the Persian “bandingen,” which became the Arabic “albadingen” and then the Spanish “albadingena,” before finally becoming the English “aubergine.”
Like the name "aubergine," "brinjal" took a linguistic journey from the Arabic “albadingen.” But instead of Persian, it was Portuguese--which calls the eggplant "beringela"--that influenced the word. Even today, an eggplant is now called a brinjal in India.
Since the fruit was originally cultivated in India, it has been called many other names in its time, including the Hindi “baingan.”
In the southern United States, the eggplant is sometimes called the “guinea squash"; this is a reference to Guinea, the West African nation from which the eggplant migrated. It is not exactly clear when this migration took place, but it is thought to be Thomas Jefferson who originally experimented with the fruit in his Virginia gardens in the late 18th century.
In Italy, the eggplant is called “melanzana,” from the Latin “mala insana” or "bad egg." The fruit got this ominous name because of its similarity to poisonous plants like the Jimson weed and the Belladonna plant--people assumed that the eggplant was poisonous as well.
Other names for the fruit are apple-of-love, gully bean, pea apple, susumber and terong.
- eggplant image by TMLP from Fotolia.com