Stevia, my stevia

For someone like me who uses stevia and whose name happens to be Steve (but whose mother always said Stevie), there’s an understandable urge to claim the plant is named for me. Turns out there’s some truth to that, because when I went to the American Heritage Dictionary and looked up the origin of the genus name Stevia, I found that it honors the botanist Petrus Jacobus Stevus, (c. 1500-1556), whose non-Latinized name was Pedro Jaime Esteve, and who was the first European to investigate the Stevia rebaudiana plants from which the sweetener is extracted. Although the dictionary described Esteve as Spanish, I recognized Esteve as the Catalan version of the name that Spanish renders Esteban and English Stephen or Steven. All those versions go back to ancient Greek stephanos, which designated a garland or crown of laurel. As for the plant with the oh-so-sweet leaves, Spanish calls it estevia, and you can read more about it in that language if you wish.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jim in IA
    Oct 14, 2014 @ 14:59:49

    I wasn’t aware of this plant or product. Learning something new.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Oct 14, 2014 @ 15:18:15

      For years the sugar industry suppressed the use of stevia as a sweetener in prepared foods, and stores were allowed to sell it only as a dietary supplement. Eventually the large sweetener companies decided they wanted to jump on the bandwagon and sell it, and suddenly—miraculously—stevia became legal in prepared foods.


  2. Juan Luis Calbarro
    Oct 14, 2014 @ 16:19:34

    About this sentence:
    “Although the dictionary described Esteve as Spanish, I recognized Esteve as the Catalan version of the name…”
    I must say that “although” is not the right word here. Esteve was Spanish and probably spoke Catalan, and there is no contradiction in it. Let’s not get confused between language (or even just lineage) and nationality.


  3. shoreacres
    Oct 16, 2014 @ 08:02:44

    I didn’t know the history of stevia as a product. I assumed it was new, and that the name was solely the creation of some ad agency. Clearly, there’s more to it than that, including a few centuries of the plant’s use in Paraguay, and probably other South American countries.

    I have two friends who are diabetic, and when I asked them which artificial sweetener they’d like me to keep on hand for them, Stevia was the choice. Since I don’t add sugar to coffee or tea, I’ve never I ought to test it out.

    I wondered if anyone named Esteve had played around a bit and come up with the electronic version of the name: E-steve. I only found one site using e-steve in its URL. Of course it belongs to Steve Jobs.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Oct 16, 2014 @ 15:39:43

      You were off by a few centuries, but that’s only a little while in evolutionary terms. If you’re planning to keep some stevia on hand for your diabetic friends, that’ll be your opportunity to try it out. It’s many times sweeter per unit than sugar, so start easy and build up to the desired sweetness.

      That’s a good one about E-Steve, and it coincides with Apple’s latest product announcement today, which this Steve just looked at on his iPhone.


  4. Maria F.
    Oct 16, 2014 @ 12:10:08

    What I like about the study of etymology and philology is that the history behind a term may actually save me from having to read a lot of unnecessary explanations; when usually the root word may hold the “umbrella” meaning. For example, in this case, even when Greek “stephanos”, which means a garland or crown of laurel, has nothing to do with the actual investigation of the “Stevia rebaudiana” plant Petrus Jacobus Stevus made, it helps to know that all of this is somewhat knitted together (although perhaps sometimes by mere coincidence). I dare say a “purist” approach in language is nearly impossible. I always fought with my father about this (who is a Harvard graduate). He insisted I spoke perfect Spanish, so I developed a phobia for any type of “purist” approach.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Oct 16, 2014 @ 15:42:35

      I’m like you in weaving the etymology of a word into my understanding of its meaning, even if that meaning is now fairly far removed from the original one, or bears no other one than that of designating the creator or discoverer of something.

      One person’s purist is another’s upholder of standards.


  5. Maria F.
    Oct 16, 2014 @ 16:14:54

    That’s right, and it seems languages have taken quite a beating, that’s why I shy away from any type of purism, no matter how academic. Take for example the dialects, they are solid proof that purism cannot exist in any language, they are there for some historical reason.


  6. Maria F.
    Oct 16, 2014 @ 16:42:53

    In P.R. there are still indigenous linguistic roots left from the Taino Indians who in fact named all of the historical town and districts on the island. Although Spanish prevailed here, there are many indian words being used in conjunction with the Spanish up to this date. It’s not a dialect in itself, but anyone from Spain would not know what in the world we would be saying. Spain not only colonized P.R. but “sold” it to the U.S. as a territory; P.R. remaining the only colony left in the entire Caribbean. And this is a political mess, as you very well know.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Oct 16, 2014 @ 19:51:19

      It’s similar in the United States, where many place names began as words in indigenous languages. As examples just among the names of states, consider Mississippi, Wyoming, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, and Oregon.


  7. Maria F.
    Oct 16, 2014 @ 21:13:35

    “Esteve” does stem from Greek “stephanos” also.


  8. kathryningrid
    Oct 19, 2014 @ 23:34:53

    Now I’m jealous. There’s no sweetener named “Hey You,” or, “Whoa, Dude,” let alone Kathryn Ingrid. Ah, well, I suppose that’s just sour grapes.


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