Every year around Thanksgiving I find the name of my birth country everywhere. From grocery stores to all media outlets and everywhere in between… only to find out that they aren’t referring to my birth country, but to a big bird eaten in celebration of Thanksgiving. If you wonder how the turkey bird became to be named after a country named Turkey, here goes the story, as told by Dr. Şinasi Tekin, retired professor of Ottoman and Turkish Studies at Harvard University, in an interview with Dr. Giancarlo Casale:
“In the Turkish country side there is a kind of bird, which is called a “çulluk”. It looks like a turkey but it is much smaller, and its meat is very delicious. Long before the discovery of America, English merchants had already discovered the delicious Culluk in the, then called, Ottoman Empire, and began exporting it back to England. Çulluk became very popular in the British Kingdom, and was known as a ‘Turkey bird’. In time, the name “Turkey bird” got shortened to “turkey”, and again, in time, the name got stuck. Then, in the 1500’s, when the English came to America, they mistook the birds here for culluks, and so they began calling them ‘turkey” also.
But other people weren’t so easily fooled. They knew that these new birds came from America, and so they called them things like ‘India birds,’ or ‘Peruvian birds” or “Ethiopian birds”. You see, ‘India,’ ‘Peru’ and ‘Ethiopia’ were all common names for the New World in the early centuries, both because people had a hazier understanding of geography, and because it took a while for the name “America” to catch on.”
That is the story behind the name of turkey birds.
If you are wondering how turkey is called in Turkey… it is called “hindi” which indicates that turkey bird came from the “New World/Americas”, which was mistaken for “India” by Christopher Columbus.
In fact, several languages refer to India (mistaken for the Americas for a long time) for turkey bird. In French, turkey bird is called “la dinde”, in Russian, “indeyka”, in Polish, “Indık”, in Hebrew, “tarnegol hodu” (Indian chicken), and Arabic, “diiq Hindi,” or the “Indian rooster”. As to in Hindi language, turkey is called “Peru”, borrowed from Portuguese.
However you call your turkey and whatever you eat on Thanksgiving Day, I hope you will take time to enjoy a delicious meal with your loved ones.