10.9 C
Wednesday, June 7, 2023
HomeAustraliaWhat is the origin of the name 'piggy banks'?

What is the origin of the name ‘piggy banks’?


Of the symbols that have gained worldwide recognition, few are as ubiquitous as the humble piggy bank.

Loved by avid savers, the ceramic savers have gained cult status thanks to their enduring appeal.

Surprisingly, it’s not the animal’s famously impressive intellect or cute looks that made the pig the first choice when making a money box – although they are considered symbols of prosperity and wealth in various cultures around the world .

Pigs are seen as good luck charms in countries such as Germany, Sweden and China, and pigs (or similar creatures) are represented as gods in Norse mythology and within Hinduism.

However, when it comes to the precise origin of the piggy bank and why piggy banks are shaped like the animals, there is some debate and enthusiasts have proposed various origin theories.

Pigs are seen as symbols of prosperity and wealth in various cultures around the world and are considered good luck charms in countries like Germany (stock image)


The term piggy bank is believed to have become common in the US in the early 20th century.

However, the use of money banks goes back much further. All the way back, in fact, to ancient times.

Here depositors used cheap jars with coin slots on the top, making it impossible to withdraw money without breaking the entire jar, deterring would-be thieves and spendthrifts alike.

Meanwhile, examples of ancient Eastern piggy banks also exist, made of terracotta, often in the shape of wild pigs, who love pigs, considered by some to be a symbol of prosperity.


When it comes to the story of how piggy banks came to be in Western culture, a popular etymological theory suggests that a linguistic coincidence could be the answer.

According to a popular theory published in the 1989 book The Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati, it all comes down to clay.

He wrote that in the Middle Ages in Western Europe, due to the scarcity of metal, a type of clay was used to make pots.

These jars, which had multiple uses in the home and kitchen, including storing money, were made of an orange clay known as “pygg,” the book says.

A piggy bank too far

The phrase “piggy bank” was taken to disturbing lengths in 2010, when a The Irish designer launched a piggy bank made with a real pig.

Colin Hart of Belfast, who claimed to have received death threats as a result of the product, created the sofa made from a stuffed pig.

Billed as the ‘piggy bank of all piggy banks’, it took 12 months to earn and cost more than $4,000 (£2,518), half of which was expected upfront and the rest payable on delivery.

Animal rights activists called the Piglet Bank “sick” and “inhumane,” but Colin said, “We’re not going to kill a piglet, we’re waiting for one to die of natural causes. That’s partly why it can take over 12 months to make… But… we don’t kill pigs, there’s no animal cruelty.”

It adds that these containers were originally known as “pygg pots.”

The name evolved into “pygg bank,” then “pig bank,” and finally, by the 18th century, “piggy bank.”

This story has been widely reported, with marketing site Financial brand write: ‘Before the establishment of modern banking institutions, people usually kept their money at home – not under the mattress (or hay rack), but in common kitchen jars.

‘In the Middle Ages, metal was expensive and rarely used for household items.

Instead, bowls and pots were made from an economical orange-colored clay called pygg.

“Whenever people could spare an extra coin or two, they would drop it into one of their clay pots — a pygg pot.”

Attractive as this theory may be, some have argued that it simply isn’t true – most notably the etymologist Michael Quinion who wrote about it on his World Wide Words site.

He said, “The story is false in every way.

“There’s no record of a clay called pygg, whether it’s orange or any other color.

“The term pygg bank is not known and piggy bank is only a century old.”

According to Michael, the word pig (or pygg as a regional alternative) was used from about 1450 “as a general term for pottery products, including pots, jars, pitchers and crockery.”

He added that experts aren’t sure where “this pig sense came from,” suggesting it may have evolved due to the shape of some items.

Such as ceramic hot water bottles, which were “smooth round like a pig’s body and were indeed called pigs.”

Scots referred to coin banks as ‘pirly pigs’, thinking that pirly refers to the action of putting a coin in the bin, as the old Scots word ‘pyrl’ is defined as poking or thrusting.


Meanwhile, in continental Europe, particularly Germany, there is evidence of pig-shaped money boxes dating back to before the 19th century.

Perhaps the pig shape was used symbolically here, referring to the ancient idea that the animal represents fertility and frugality.

The growing popularity of piggy banks in the United States in the early 20th century can then be linked to the great migration of Germans in the 19th century.

However, despite the myriad of ideas, there isn’t one theory that is universally recognized to explain the link between pigs and coin-operated machines, giving rise to the term “piggy bank.”

Despite this, their popularity persists and they are still used by savvy savers in countries around the world.

The author of what'snew2day.com is dedicated to keeping you up-to-date on the latest news and information.

Latest stories