H. B. Paksoy

Published in Journal of American Studies of Turkey 6 (1997): 89

Most Americans tend to think that the Turkish Republic is named after a bird. As one result, quite a few Turks in the US, at one time or other, had to answer the question "What do you Turks eat during Thanksgiving?" This query is especially heard during November of each year, as Americans prepare to observe the quintessentially American holiday.

The homeland of the fowl known as Meleagris gallopavo or americana sybestris auis, is the North American continent. The 1494 Tordesillas treaty, forged by the Pope in Rome, granted the monopoly of commerce originating from the newly discovered continent to the Portuguese (as opposed to the Spanish). The Portuguese brought this fowl to their Goa colony in India. Circa 1615, Cihangir (a direct descendent of the founder of the Mughal empire in India, Babur [1483-1530] himself a grandson of Timur [d. 1405] wrote his Tuzuk-u Jahangiri (Institutes of Cihangir). In his book, Cihangir also described this fowl in detail replete with a color drawing. Since Meleagris gallopavo resembled the Meleagris Numida commonly found in Africa (especially in Guinea), and already known in India, the former became known in British India as the "Guinea Fowl" (see O. Caroe, "Why Turkey." Asian Affairs. October 1970). Meleagris gallopavo was then introduced to Egypt, a province of the Ottoman empire and entered the Turkish language as "hindi" (from India). When traders took a breeding stock from Ottoman ("Turkish") Egypt to Spain and the British Isles, the bird was designated "Turkey."

As a result, the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620 were familiar with "Turkey" when they encountered it in their new home. After the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin suggested that "turkey," native of the land be designated as the symbol of the young American republic. Instead, Haliaeetus Leucocephalus (Bald Eagle) was given this honor.

This text was produced and installed by Lynn H. Nelson