Why Is a One-Cent Piece Called a 'Penny'?

As I’m sure most of you know, a penny is a British coin. An American cent is definitely not. (Actually, the British penny became the New Penny when they went decimal in 1971. But I’ve noticed when I see them at coin shows, etc. they’ve gone back to being called pennies. FYI, the plural of penny (value) is pence. The plural of the coin is pennies.)

So why do we called American cents pennies, informally at least. I’ve always seriously wondered this. Does anyone know the history behind this odd usage? Are all low-value coins just called that in the English-speaking world? Or is there another explanation? Does it go back to 1776 in some way? etc.


Sometimes the blatantly obvious explanation is the correct one. We call one-cent coins pennies because our English ancestors called their one pence coin pennies.

They are stil just called “pennies” here in England. THe “new pence” usage was only used for a short time during the transitional period from proper money to decimal.


Who can still do sums like adding a half crown to a guinea and diving by 13 shillings.

Urm, I can :smiley:

With my last UK employers when we got down to salary negotiations and they asked what I wanted, I named a bordering outrageous sum which they immediately accepted. Quickly realising that I had managed to undershoot what I could of got out of them I added, “…er that’s guineas, of course”!!

Well it was worth a try…