The Coconut palm', is a member of the family Arecaceae. It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos.
One of the earliest mentions of the coconut dates back to the One Thousand and One Nights story of Sinbad the Sailor; he is known to have bought and sold coconuts during his fifth voyage. Tenga, its Malayalam name, was used in the detailed description of coconut found in Itinerario by Ludovico di Varthema published in 1510 and also in the later Hortus Indicus Malabaricus. Even earlier, it was called nux indica, a name used by Marco Polo in 1280 while in Sumatra, taken from the Arabs who called it جوز هندي jawz hindī. Both names translate to "Indian nut". In the earliest description of the coconut palm known, given by Cosmos of Alexandria in his Topographia Christiana written about 545 AD, there is a reference to the argell tree and its drupe.
Historical evidence favors the European origin of the name "coconut", for no name is similar in any of the languages of India, where the Portuguese first found the fruit; and indeed Barbosa, Barros, and Garcia, in mentioning the Malayalam name tenga, and Canarese narle, expressly say, "we call these fruits quoquos", "our people have given it the name of coco", and "that which we call coco, and the Malabars temga".
The OED states: "Portuguese and Spanish authors of the 16th c. agree in identifying the word with Portuguese and Spanish coco "grinning face, grin, grimace", also "bugbear, scarecrow", cognate with cocar "to grin, make a grimace"; the name being said to refer to the face-like appearance of the base of the shell, with its three holes. According to Losada, the name came from Portuguese explorers, the sailors of Vasco da Gama in India, who first brought them to Europe. The coconut shell reminded them of a ghost or witch in Portuguese folklore called coco (also côca). The first known recorded usage of the term is 1555.