"Kiwi is the nickname used internationally for people from New Zealand, as well as being a relatively common self-reference. Unlike many demographic labels, its usage is not considered offensive; rather, it is generally viewed as a symbol of pride and endearment for the people of New Zealand."
Really, Wikipedia? I wish you'd asked me. It's time to stop people calling us – and to stop calling ourselves - Kiwi. It's an easy fix too. No referendum needed. Just knock it off. I expect strong opposition from some quarters. The use of Kiwi is beloved of headline writers, for instance, because it takes up only a third of the space required by New Zealander.
However they are used, names have connotations. And the connotations of Kiwi are less than inspiring. I like the little critters as much as the next person and still hope to see one in the wild before I move on.
But as a national symbol, they lack a certain oomph. And as a name for the people who live here, there is something altogether too cute and twee about the label.
Too adorable for words. Not something to be taken seriously.
People from other countries – usually but not always Americans - are curious about our national symbol/nickname.
"Does it soar majestically across your forests and lakes, like our mighty bald eagle?"
"Surely it has magnificent plumage. Tell me about that."
"I'd rather not."
"Does it symbolise confidence, like the French rooster, or power and majesty like the Indian tiger?"
"No – you couldn't really say that."
As flightless avian emblems go, the mighty moa might have been a better choice, if weren't for that whole being extinct thing.
What countries call each other, especially near neighbours, can be contentious. According to a Danish poster on reddit: "We also call Swedes "Swedes" because it's the worst insult in the Danish language." Same round here. But we call Australians Australian because we have to call them something, and we're polite.
Kiwi is not considered derogatory and is hard to use in a derogatory sense, but it's a get-under-the-skin irritant. Calling a child "sweetie" isn't derogatory either.
But it's patronising and belittling, and if the child doesn't like it it's abusive.
In general Australians and New Zealanders rise above such petty name calling, but the damage is there to be done. Not so long ago a New Zealand woman in Australia lost an employment case alleging harassment because her boss called her Kiwi and encouraged other staff to do the same. Context is all when it comes to whether something is offensive or not. Take sweetie again - from the lips of a benevolent auntie it's one thing. From Paula Bennett in zip-it mode, it's another.
I don't expect relief any time soon. We struggle with what to call ourselves formally. Many Pākehā hate the name and no one can define it. There are even Māori who object to being called that.
I've a sneaking suspicion that when people from Aotearoa/New Zealand refer to Kiwi, it's code for white. Look and listen and you'll note it's seldom used to refer to the non-white citizens of these islands, and especially not by those citizens. Once you've subtly established that Kiwi doesn't refer to everyone, it's easier to start talking about the "Kiwi way of life" and whether or not someone is "a real Kiwi", and at that point it's a simple matter to push them out to society's margins.