If you thought you already knew how the pineapple got its name, you may have been mistaken. Yes, a pineapple resembles somewhat a pine cone. Therefore, it makes sense that English speakers decided to call them a pine apple, combining the cones of the pine tree with a well-known fruit. But, the actual origin was more direct.
That is, the pineapple got its name from the pine cone itself. Since cones grow on pine trees like fruits grow on fruit trees, people used to call pine cones pineapples. And, yes, pinecones are the fruit of the pine tree. In fact, the word pineapple dates as far back as the 1300s, and in those days, nobody called them pinecones.
All plants in the pineapple family come from the Americas except for one, which comes from Guinea. The first English explorers who came across this exotic fruit thought they resembled pine cones, which they already called pineapples. So, naturally, they called this fruit a pineapple. They didn’t care that pineapples have nothing to do with pines or with apples. The Spanish explorers weren’t blind to the pine cone resemblance either. They called them piña.
The more than 2000 plants in the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae) grow from the northern regions in Chile and Argentina all the way to the United States. A few have edible fruits but only the pineapple itself (Ananas cosmosus) is a significant commercial fruit. This particular species was indigent to South America where it was cultivated for centuries.
The most common name used by the native Americans that lived in the regions where pineapples grew and were cultivated were ananas or nanas.
The English name for pineapple is first seen in print in 1568 in a translation from French of Andre André Thevet’s The New Found World, or Antarctike. A cultivated fruit eaten by the Tupinamba people of Rio de Janeiro is described as a “Nana made in the manner of a Pine apple.” The word nanas was also used to describe the fruit. Nanas means ‘excellent fruit.’ This word was later adopted scientifically and led to the plant’s current scientific designation.
The OED claims that the first reference to pineapple occurred in 1714 by the English writer Mandeville.