Gary Pope
Why Is a Papaya Called a Papaya?
12 min

Whilst examining the strange ripening fruit in the fruit bowl, Laurence asked me: “Why is a Papaya called a Papaya?”. How on earth he knew it was a Papaya I don’t know. I probably couldn’t even say the word Papaya when I was three.

Truth is, I don’t know why a Papaya is called a Papaya (and if you do please do let me know). In the moments before I had to admit this shortcoming to the inquisitive bundle of developing testosterone that is my son, I went through my mental check list…places called Papaya, people or trees called Papaya, perhaps a description of the flesh of the fruit? No, I drew a complete blank…

Me: “I don’t know”

Laurence: “Why don’t you know?”

Me: “Because I never asked why?”

Laurence: “Why did you never ask why?”

Me: “Because we didn’t have Papayas when I was little”

Laurence “Why didn’t you have Papayas when you were little?”

Me: “ Because air-freight was prohibitively expensive and during the early 1970’s in south London apples were indeed the only fruit.”

Laurence “Why was air-freak probably spending in London with apples?”

Me: “Shall we find out why a Papaya is called a Papaya together?”

Laurence: “Yes.”

So, I whipped out the iPad and punched our query into Google. We get…

- An all-girl pop music group from South Korea

- Stage names of Danish singer and musician Linné

- A Handberg Lund a song by Polish jazz vocalist Urszula Dudziak a video game developer

- A Japanese dancer and choreograph

Or, and this is my personal favourite, a dance in East Asia to an Urszula Dudziak song. Poles? East Asia? Hmmm. Interesting. But no reason why a Papaya is called a Papaya.

But Laurence and I are on this journey and, as a dad, I am thinking more about how I am going to tackle this one moving forward…the standard “because it is” is just not an appropriate answer. He’s got a mind to expand and it is my responsibility. The pressure of the Papaya is palpable.

Children ask “Why?” because they want to know something that they don’t. it’s that simple. They are new to the world and are interested in it. The problem is with us adults. We get frustrated and we get bored and at times we get a little embarrassed if we don’t know the answers. But as with anything where we are helping the children to understand the reality of the world they find themselves in, if we just take our time and push it back to them, the open ended question “why?” becomes a quite brilliant learning and bonding experience for both.

Laurence is 3. His language acquisition and cognition are both moving forward at ferocious rates and the exploration of the world through this wonderful word “Why?” is at the centre of his development. He’s actively engaged in the world and he wants to know more. His only problem is that as a three year old his cognition and language acquisition are a little out of sync. He can understand a good deal more than he can verbalise and so if he could he’d ask a whole load more. Why is a great word if you’re at this stage of development.

Being a parent isn’t just changing dirty nappies – it’s filling a child’s mind with the knowledge and confidence to ask “why?” throughout their life that is the most important thing we can ever do.

Why? Because it is. And it’s an utterly self perpetuating cycle. Brandy Frazier of the University of Michigan, detailed in the Child Development Journal (Nov/Dec 2009), that when children’s questions were met with the classic ‘Because I said so’ answers, they were twice as likely to re-ask the question. However, when an explanation was given, they were more than 4 times as likely to then ask a follow up question, thus opening a discussion. Boom!!!! There we go. We engage in attempt to help our children understand and do the right thing as parents and what do we get more questions – and that’s exactly how it should be.

So, having squared all this away in my mind, it’s back to the Papaya.

It was getting to bed time; I turned to that most trusted of sources, Any Questions Answered. “We’re going to text the man that knows everything now, Laurence.” “

Why is a Papaya called a Papaya” I text. I wait almost five minutes 15 requests from Laurence to the tune of: “has the man texted back yet?” and a lifetime in AQA terms and then bleep bleep… “

Here we go, Laurence…”

I press open and…”There is no reason why a Papaya is called a Papaya. It is called a Papaya because it is.” I now know how Laurence feels and I just paid a £1 for the privilege.

Laurence: “What does the man say?”

Me: “Because it is.” Laurence: “Why?” And that’s the thing isn’t it. A child’s search for knowledge is a search for the truth of the world around them. Until they get to the absolute root of their enquiry they won’t give up and may it ever be so. We’re driving to my mother’s tonight. Next week I think we’ll deal with “Are we nearly there yet…?”

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