The name for the North American fowl of Thanksgiving actually originates – in a round-about way – in Turkey, but the bird itself does not. What we call turkey is imported into Turkey and called hindi (meaning India).
So, why do we call a North American fowl turkey?
In the 15th and 16th century merchants from the Ottoman Empire imported birds into Europe which became known as turkey cocks after the Turkish heritage of the Ottoman merchants. The name was shortened to turkey over time.
There are competing theories about the origin of these birds. One theory suggests that these were guineafowl from West Africa and the Europeans then mistakenly called the North American birds turkey without realizing they were different. The other theory is that the birds imported by the Turks did actually originate from North America.
Either way, the name comes from who imported them, not where they came from. The turkey (genus: Meleagris) is native to North America only. There are no native turkey species in the country we now call Turkey.
Why do the Turks call the same bird a hindi?
Like the Europeans, the Turks gave the bird a name based on where it came from. The word hindi in Turkish means India, so effectively a turkey is a ‘bird from India’. Some have proposed that this name is based on the “Columbusian misconception that the Americas were eastern Asia.”, but it’s also possible that trade of North American turkeys came to modern-day Turkey via India.
Interestingly, the Turkish language is not the only one that derives from India.
The French originally called the American bird poulet d’Inde (literally “chicken from India”), which has since been abbreviated to dinde, and similar terms exist in languages ranging from Polish to Hebrew to Catalan.
Can turkeys fly?
For that, we go to Les Nessman on location…