What does “turkey” Mean in Turkish?

There are some words that can have different meanings both in different languages and the same language at the same time. The English word “Turkey” is one of them which has different meanings and it makes people confused about the word sometimes. 

The word “turkey” does not have a meaning in Turkish. The name of the bird, which is called “turkey” in English, is “Hindi” in Turkish. On the other hand, the name of the country which is located in Anatolia and Thrace is “Türkiye” in Turkish.

It can still seem a little bit confused but all of these words have special meanings that you will not be able to confuse after you learn them. You will find enough information in the article. There is an exciting story behind this word with its different meanings. If you want to solve the complication of these words, keep reading, and let’s look at more details!

Where does the name of the Turkey (country) come from?

Turkey is the country between Europe and Asia on the Mediterranean. The Republic of Turkey is the official name of Turkey in English and Türkiye Cumhuriyeti in Turkish. In Medieval Latin, the name of the country Turkey was used as Turquia or Turchia which means the “land of the Turks” and was also meant since ancient times. “Turcus” was also used in Medieval Latin and “Turc” in Old French for the word “Turk”. “Turkie”, “Turkye”, “Turky”, and “Torke” were used in Middle English for the word “Turkey”. “The Turkish Empire” and “Turkey” were used to refer to The Ottoman Empire mostly among the contemporaries of the Ottoman Empire.

To understand the meaning, we need to know where the word “Turk” or “Türk” was used for the first time. There are many different sources from different regions about the etymology of the name of “Turkey” (county) and the name of the “Turks” that are used to identify people.

Turkic Sources 

In the first Turkic sources, in the Old Turkic inscriptions of the Gokturks which is also known as Celestial Turks, the name term of the word “Türk” or “Türük” was used for the first time.

  • The Turkic people are described as the ethnic groups who live in Central Asia, East Asia, West Asia, North Asia, North Africa, and Europe. The Turkic ethnic groups speak Turkic languages as well. To not get confused; it does not have the same meaning as the Turkish people or Turkish language and it does not include only Turkish people who live in Turkey when we use the term of Turkic people. Turkic people can speak many different Turkic languages as well. 

Chinese Sources

The name which was given to the people who lived in the Altay Mountains that is in the Central Asia was “tie-le” or “tu-jue” in Chinese in 177BC. 

Greek and Latin Sources

In the book “De Adminitrando Imperio” of Byzantine emperor and scholar Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, the word “Turks” was used as “Tourkia” in Greek. 

Persian Sources

In the Persian sources, the word “Turkestan” that was derived from Persian was used to describe the meaning “abode of the Turks” that lived in Central Asia. 

Usage in Other Languages

  • The Hungarian Word: “Törökország” is used to mean “Turk-Land” as the Hungarian word.
  • The Icelandic Word: “Tyrkland” is also used to mean “Turk-Land” as the Icelandic word.
  • In the Sanskrit Language: The word “Turask” means Turkey in Sanskrit and Bengali language at the same time.
  • In the Arabic Languages: “ad-Dawlat at-Turkiyya” is used to mean “State of the Turks” or “the Turkish State” 

Since ancient years, people referred to the word “Turk” to identify the people who lived in the closer regions Central Asia, East Asia, West Asia, North Asia, North Africa, and Europe with different words in different languages and it always used to mean “the Land of the Turks” with different words. When we compare the usage of the word “Turk” and the etymology of it in different languages, we can easily see the similarities between the words at the same time. Even the earliest sources for the etymology of the word “Turk” and “Turkey” were identifying the people who live in the stated regions.

Where does the name of the turkey (bird) come from?

Even though the same word is used to mean different things, the name of turkey (bird) does not come completely from Turkey (country) because the turkey bird is originally from North America. To describe “the Land of Turks”, Turkey (country) is used since the 1300s in English but turkey which is used to describe the bird has a completely different etymology. The Ottoman Empire has an important role in the usage of the name turkey to describe the bird. It is about the geographical location of the Ottoman Empire. Predominantly, most of the turkeys that were exported to European countries were passing through the lands of the Ottoman Empire and today’s Turkey in the 15th and 16th centuries. 

The turkeys which are originally from North American were exported to Europe by Spain in 1519. After that, the exportation started in all European countries and reached England in 1541. There was an issue that makes British people confused who saw the turkeys because they could not be sure the difference between African turkeys which was bought by the Portuguese traders from West Africa between the Indian chicken. Both of the bird species were exported passing through the lands of the Ottoman Empire and today’s Turkey at the same time.

In the end, people were able to understand the difference between the species of the birds but they gave the name “turkey” in the 17th century by the British people who immigrated to America. After that, the name stayed as “turkey”.

This is the formal explanation for the usage of the term turkey but there are many other different theories of where does the name of the turkey come from as well;

  • Theory of linguist Mario Pei says that when most of the turkeys that were exported to European countries were passing through the lands of the Ottoman Empire and today’s Turkey in the 15th and 16th centuries, British people who immigrated to America started to call the bird as “Turkey Cock”. In time, they made the term shorter as “Turkey Coq”. Finally, it started to be used as only “Turkey” instead of the longer term. After British people started to move to Massachusetts, they remained to call the term “turkey” for the bird in their tradition. 
  • Another theory for the term “turkey” comes from the etymologist Mark Forsyth and the theory of Forsyth says that Turkish traders bought the turkeys from Madagascar and they sailed around Africa to bring the birds to England. After that, Spanish sailors started to bring the North American turkeys to Europe and Spanish people could not understand the difference between the species of the birds when they saw them and they started to think that they were all same. In addition to that, the westerns who started to bring the turkeys to European countries by passing through the lands of the Ottoman Empire that they bought the turkeys from Ethiopia started to think that the turkeys that were brought from North America by the Portuguese traders and sailors were the same and they remained to call the term “turkey” for the bird.  
  • There was a Portuguese Jew Luis de Torres who joined the first voyage of Christopher Columbus who explored the continent of America and when Torres saw the turkey, started to shout “Tukki Tukki” in Hebrew and which means “big bird”. Besides that, while Columbus was aiming to reach India, he explored the American continent but he did not know that. When he saw the bird, he shouted “Tuka” because he thought it was an Indian bird. After that, the pronunciation of Tuka became Turkey in time. 
  • In the 1990s there was a rumor that the word “turkey” was used the first time in Hebrew as well but there is no proof about this statement. 

Where does the word “Hindi” in Turkish come from? 

The word “Hindi” in Turkish means the bird “turkey” in English. Turkish people thought that turkey which means “Hindi” in Turkish was a special bird for Indians. The country India also means “Hindistan” in Turkish at the same time. That is the reason Turkish people started to call “Hindi” to the bird turkey in Turkish. It was possible to see similar examples all over the world. French people started to name the bird turkey as “poulet d’Inde” which means “Indian Chicken” or “Chicken from India” in English.

Another example comes from the Netherlands. The word turkey was used in the Dutch language as “Kerala Chicken” or “De Kalkoen” which also means “Meleagris Gallopavo”. The reason why Dutch people called the turkey “Kerala Chicken” was Kerala was an essential and one of the most important trade centers in the past which is located in the southwest of the Indian regions. People were confused about the name of the bird turkey because when Columbus explored the continent of America, all people knew that he reached India and they thought the species of the bird was related to India because of that reason but in point of fact the birds were originally from North America and not from India. This situation was one of the biggest reasons that make people confused about the name of turkey. 

How do Indian People Name Turkey (the bird) in Indian Language?

After all of this information and situations, you might be curious about which word Indian people use for turkey (the bird) in the Indian language. For the term of turkey the bird, Indian people use “Tarki” in their language. They thought turkey the bird was from Turkey the country. Besides that, in some of the Hindu dialects, it is possible to see the word turkey as “Peru” and “Piru” at the same time. The reason why Indian people called “Peru” and “Piru” to name turkey is they thought the bird comes from somewhere else but not India. They thought the turkeys came from Peru and they remained to call “Peru” to turkey. 

What does “Turkey” (the bird) mean in other languages? 

It is possible to get confused after learning that many different countries thought that the turkey came from other regions and other countries and it is not possible to not ask what other countries name turkey in different languages as well. We know that Dutch people called turkey “Kerala Chicken” or “De Kalkoen” in their language because they thought it was related to an important trade center Kerala which is located in the southwest of the Indian regions but Malaysian people thought that turkey was coming from the Netherlands and they started to call the turkey as “Dutch Chicken” in their language. Besides that, while French people started to name the bird turkey as “poulet d’Inde” which means “Indian Chicken” or “Chicken from India” in English, Cambodian people called the bird turkey “moan Barang” which means “French Chicken” at the same time. 

We understand that turkey (the bird) had a different meaning in different countries and different languages because people were not able to know where the bird was originally coming from in the past. The biggest reason was also an exploration of the continent of America by Christopher Columbus. Columbus aimed to reach India because the important trade center was in India in the past. When he explored America, all people thought that he was in India but actually he explored America at that time. The confusion of the name comes from this reason basically because the bird turkey was coming from North America. 

The Relation between turkey the bird and Turkey the country

The relation between the bird turkey and the country Turkey does not show that birds were from Turkey. The trading road was the biggest reason for the etymology of the bird name because the turkeys that were exported to European countries were passing through the lands of the Ottoman Empire, so today’s Turkey and British people called the bird “turkey” after they understood the difference between other birds and turkeys.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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