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The formula for Milo was changed recently, leading to an outpouring of complaints to the company – but only in New Zealand. Apparently they’ve had the vanilla removed, and this doesn’t affect Australia, as we didn’t have any vanilla to start with. I knew that Milo was sold all over the world (it’s very big in Malaysia, I’ve heard), but didn’t realise that every country gets their own formulation of Milo.
Milo is a cocoa powder and malt drink sold in a bright green tin. It was created by Australian inventor Thomas Mayne and launched at the 1934 Royal Easter Show, in an attempt to improve the diets of Australian children. Rich in carbohydrates and an easy way to add calories, Milo has a host of vitamins added to it – a boon to Depression-era parents worried about their malnourished tots.
Even though our diets are no longer very deficient in calories, carbohydrates and vitamins, Milo is still popular, and marketed as a nutritious energy drink. You can also buy Milo chocolate bars and Milo breakfast cereal, rather less convincingly flogged to parents as a healthy option that will fill your kids with the sort of powerful energy needed to win sporting events sponsored by Milo.
Milo has an appealing crunchy texture which Thomas Mayne tried very hard to eradicate, until he discovered that people liked it. Instead of dissolving completely in milk, Milo will sit on top, forming a crust that can be eaten – in Australia, chocolate milkshakes are already crunchy …. You can use Milo to cook with (Milo banana bread is pretty good), although a favourite way to enjoy Milo is sprinkled on top of vanilla ice cream.
Milo is named after Milo of Croton, an ancient Greek wrestling champion who won six times at the Olympic Games, and numerous other titles. His hometown of Croton, in Sicily, was famous for producing great athletes. A legend in his own lifetime, he was said to be of superhuman strength, and likened to the demigod Hercules – he supposedly took part in a great military victory dressed in a lion-skin.
Just as Milo of Croton was a sporting hero who performed mighty feats of endurance, so too are you supposed to become strong and athletic by drinking Milo. However, its real strength is as a cultural icon that generations of us have grown up drinking. Rather than shuffling into slippers and becoming a nostalgic comfort food, 81-year-old Milo continues to pull on its running shoes and go and go and go!
The ancient Greek name Milo, as held by Milo of Croton, and the inspiration for the chocolate drink, is believed to be from milou, a pre-Hellenic word for “sheep”. Could you get a name meaning more appropriate for an Australian or New Zealand child, as sheep farming has been so important to both countries? In modern Greek, Milo means “apple”, and you will sometimes see the name translated that way.
Even if you haven’t heard of Milo of Croton, you must surely have heard of the Venus de Milo, the 2nd century marble statue of Aphrodite which was found on the island of Milos (also called Milo and Melos) in the 19th century. It is now in the Louvre in Paris, admired as the height of feminine grace and beauty, although without any arms.
There are many folk tales as to how the Greek island received its name. One is that it was named after Milos, the son of a river god, who colonised the island under the direction of the goddess Aphrodite. He was so handsome that three goddesses vied for his affection, and he was eventually rewarded with the apple that Paris of Troy awarded to Aphrodite as the most beautiful of all. Another is that he was a handsome young man who was a close friend of the god Adonis: when Adonis died, he hung himself on an apple tree in despair. These both sound like the modern “apple” meaning has influenced the stories.
Another has a feminine source for the name, telling of a Cretan maiden named Melis who threw herself into the sea to escape an unwanted lover. She drowned, but the waves carried her to the island of Milos, where she was worshipped as a nymph. Her name comes from the ancient Greek for “bee”, the source of Melissa: bee goddesses were worshipped on Crete.
Despite these romantic etymologies offered for the island, sheep were a vital part of the island’s economy even in prehistoric times, and a ram was the island’s symbol, used on coins. It is far more likely that the island was named after these important animals. It is unclear to me if people named Milo were named after the island, but given the apparent antiquity of its name, it doesn’t seem implausible.
Milo is also a Germanic name, of uncertain meaning. It may come from an ancient Germanic root meaning “mild, gentle”, or is possibly even related to those Slavic names formed from the root milu, meaning “grace, favour”, or “dear”. The name was introduced to England by the Normans in the form Miles, which was Latinised back to Milo – although a person documented as Milo would presumably have been known as Miles in everyday life.
Milo is #311 and rising in the US, and #159 and rising in the UK. Also rising in France and the Netherlands, it is a popular name in Sweden at #58.
The name Milo is rare in Australia because of the chocolate-flavoured drink, even though there’s nothing negative about the drink Milo, and Coco is a hip name which sounds exactly like cocoa. A straw poll I conducted suggested that many people still connect it with the classic children’s movie, Milo and Otis – not only was that a long time ago now, but Otis is in reasonable use, and very fashionable!
Milo is a boy’s name that sounds rather cute, but has a powerfully masculine namesake, suggesting it could work well on both a little boy and a grown man. I think it makes a hip choice, and suspect that if it wasn’t for the drink in the familiar green tin, it would be rising in line with international trends. Anyone worried about the drink might prefer to give it a more European pronunciation – MEE-lo.
(Photo from Milo’s Facebook page)