Why are Blackberries Called Blackberries?

by Charlie
Blackberries

Blackberries are a perfect fresh snack for that hot summer day but have you ever wondered how they got their name?

Why are blackberries called blackberries? It seems fairly obvious that the name “blackberry” has come from the berry’s appearance, but they can also be referred to as “bramble fruits,” since they come from the bramble plant. The irresistible shiny blackness of these “berries” (they aren’t actually berries) has obviously contributed to the name blackberry, and across the world, people love going “blackberrying” on a hunt for these delicious treats. 

Where Did the Word “Blackberry” Come From?

Essentially, the word “blackberry” (as you might guess) came from our ancestors looking at a berry-like fruit that was black, and deciding on a simple name for it. The word “black” comes from the Old Norse word for the color, which was “blakkr.” This developed into “blaec” in Old English.

If you go back to the twelfth century, you will find reference to “blaceberian,” which referred to the much-beloved blackberry back then – and it’s easy to see how this word evolved to its modern equivalent today.

Without standardized spelling or even very standardized pronunciation, words frequently altered depending on who was writing them, so this word would have gone through many variations before becoming the standard “blackberry” that we know today.

It’s very easy to see why they might have been called blackberries at the time. We did not have much understanding of how plants worked or the different ways in which they fruit, and these fruits do look like berries that are black. Ignoring the fact that there are many other black berries, it seems a perfectly reasonable name to have given to them.

Popular with everyone and readily available in the wild, these fruits would have needed an easy common name that made sure everyone knew what was being referred to – and that’s what they got!

Why are Blackberries Not Actually Berries?

You might be surprised to learn that blackberries aren’t berries, and wonder why they have “berry” in their name if that’s the case.

We’ll start with why they aren’t berries. Berries must be developed from a single flower ovary. They usually contain many seeds, not just one, within a single wall of fruit. They are fleshy, and they often change color as they ripen to indicate that they are ready.

Examples of berries include grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, and bananas – so you can see that the botanical use of the word is not one that we would expect at all! Who would call an eggplant a berry?

With that in mind, it may not surprise you that what we commonly refer to as “berries” often aren’t, strictly speaking, berries at all. Even a strawberry is not a berry, and nor is a raspberry.

You might be wondering what excludes them from the berry category, and what they are instead. They are aggregate fruits, and they come from flowers that have multiple ovaries. You can tell that from the way they cluster up. They are made from multiple units called “drupes,” and each of these “drupes” contains its own seed.

When you eat a blackberry, you probably notice a lot of seeds – one in each of the individual “pellets” of the fruit. Sometimes blackberries can even feel gritty in your mouth. That is because they are made from multiple flower ovaries, and so have multiple seeds in them, although only one in each section. It’s also why they form in clusters, rather than as one whole, rounded fruit.

If you compare a blackberry to a blueberry, you’ll see the difference in formation.

This is also why strawberries have those little yellow flecks; each one is an individual unit containing a seed. Although the strawberry’s overall shape is smoother than a blackberry’s, if you look at wild strawberries, you’ll see a more similar formation, because both fruits come from multiple ovaries.

Why are Blackberries Called Berries?

So you might now be wondering why we refer to blackberries as berries, if they aren’t actually berries at all (and all the other things we call berries, for that matter). It might seem obvious where the color part of their name came from, but what about the “berry” bit?

The answer is simple. The name “blackberry” predates the definition of the word “berry.” At the time when humans were picking and eating these little treats and trying to decide what to call them, we hadn’t come up with a fixed definition for a “berry” yet.

The common usage referred to something soft, fleshy, and sweet that you might pick from a plant and eat – and that’s exactly what blackberries are. It wasn’t until we increased our understanding of flowers and the fruits that they form that we could come up with such definitions, and therefore “blackberries” were classed as berries, because that’s what they seemed like to most people.

Changing the name, which had been used for such a long time and was so widespread, wasn’t really feasible – either for blackberries or for the other fruits that no longer fell into line with the botanical definition of a berry. Therefore, it was simply kept, and we keep calling them berries, despite the misnomer.

Why Weren’t Other Berries Called Blackberries?

There are very many black berries – it’s a popular color for fruiting bushes because birds are attracted to it, and many birds are used as seed couriers by plants. Why did blackberries get the honor of the simple and descriptive name?

It’s hard to say, but the most likely explanation is that these berries were very common (we all know that bramble likes to grow everywhere), readily available, and popular. They were likely foraged for by peasants, and they could easily be made into preserves and pies.

Unlike many berries, they grew wild, with no care or encouragement, and therefore they would have been eaten everywhere they were found. It makes sense, therefore, to use a common and easy-to-recognize name for them, especially when it came to selling preserves made with them at markets.

Final Thoughts

The name “blackberry” is obviously very descriptive, and its simplicity reflects the popularity and availability of this fruit. The fact that blackberries are not really berries at all doesn’t seem to have caused problems over the years; we still eat and enjoy them, even if botanists might wince at the misuse of the term!

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