How Did the Turkey Get Its Name?

Updated 26 November 2014

The Columbian expedition of 1492 sought to reach Asia, but ended up somewhere else entirely. And while the Americas had little to do with the old world, this did not prevent people and items from the other side of the Atlantic being associated with the Middle East, India, and elsewhere. In this updated episode, we consider the explanations for why a familiar bird and favorite Thanksgiving day meal has the same name as the country of Turkey and explore the name for the turkey in other languages. We also discuss more broadly the historical context within which the turkey and other foods such as potatoes and corn became part of global diets.

Chris Gratien is a doctoral candidate studying the environmental history of the modern Middle East at Georgetown University (see

Note for the listener: This podcast is not primarily a work of primary source research. It is a synthesis of publicly available information and draws extensively from the following works below, which are also mentioned during the course of the episode. For the purposes of academic citation, we encourage you to consult these works.

Select Bibliography

New Introduction:

Yuhas, Alan. "So Muslims beat Columbus to America?"

Smith, Andrew F. The Turkey: An American Story. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Slack, Edward R. "The Chinos in New Spain: A Corrective Lens for a Distorted Image." Journal of World History 20, no. 1 (2009): 35-67.

Lovejoy, Paul. "The Context of Enslavement in West Africa." In Slaves, Subjects, and Subversives : Blacks in Colonial Latin America, edited by Jane Landers and Barry Robinson, 9-38. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. The Career and Legend of Vasco Da Gama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

For another lecture on the word "turkey": Erju Ackman, Turkish American TV, "The origins of the word Turkey" 24 January 2013.

Original Episode:

List of names for the Turkey in other languages

Hobhouse, Henry. Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind. [Washington, D.C.]: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005.

Norton, Marcy. "Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics." The American historical review. 111, no. 3 (2006): 660.

Vincent-Barwood, Aileen. "Columbus: What If?" Saudi Aramco World. Vol. 43 No 1 (January 1992).


Lydia said…
can you post a link to the full picture? would love to see who is fighting over the fez-wearing turkey : )
Chris Gratien said…
good eye, it's actually a great political cartoon about the ottomans being caught in between russian and british empires:
Guido said…
I've often wondered about this too, great to find out more! I do have a small correction: the Dutch word 'kalkoen', to my knowledge, derives from Calicut, not Calcutta, which wasn't founded until 1690. Still in India therefore, so the line of argument stop the same. Keep up the good work!
Guido said…
Unknown said…
بارك الله فيكم
Unknown said…
why wouldn't you post the text file as well? not all people are american, some people also prefer to "read".
Whiskey4 said…
Poulsenviews said…
Pretty common knowledge the bird is America and got its name from the natives, ain't it?
timbooo said…
It's a podcast, which implies audio.
Also, being rude is generally not a great way to get what you want.
E2K said…
Could you please add its text for the people who are not able to understand completely by listening that audio file? For me, i havent got sufficient English. Also some of visitors may have hearing problems even if their mother tongue is English. I know here is a podcast site but it would be so nice adding content as text too if it is possible. Thanks in advance. Regards and best wishes
Unknown said…
I consider the following as the definitive answer to the question "Why the turkey is called turkey":

The Turkey's Turkey connection:
Chris Gratien said…
We consider that article a pretty good answer as well. It's a shorter version of the explanation offered in this podcast, albeit published a year after this episode was released and without any references to sources or other research on the issue.

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