About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Origin of the Turkey name

As we approach Thanksgiving (aka Turkey Day), you might be wondering why turkeys are called turkeys. There's a lot of confusion, but this all-American bird is not from the country of Turkey. The birds weren't known outside the Americas until Spanish explorers brought some from the New World to Spain in the early 1500s.

There are a few explanations on how Turkeys were named. In the days when geography was a little sketchy, Europeans sometimes referred to any exotic import as Turkey (i.e. Turkey Bird, Turkey rug, Turkey bag).

Another story is that Europeans already ate guinea fowl they imported to Europe by Turkish merchants. So when the first American settlers were presented with a similar large bird for Thanksgiving it was giving the generic name Turkey. Others say that the name turkey came from Native Americans who called the birds firkee, which sounds like turkey, and is the sound turkeys make when they are afraid --"turk, turk, turk."

Or, people may have thought turkeys, peacocks, and guinea fowl were all alike. A Latin and Greek translation of the bird's scientific name, Meleagris gallopavo, means “guinea fowl chicken peacock.”

While Turkey is the accepted name for this native American bird in the United States, now that I’ve researched a little of their history I can’t help but think The American Ornithological Union (AOU) should give them a real name. These poor birds have been a walking drumstick since the first humans laid eyes on them.

This Thanksgiving, my family and I will be dining on the lesser known Tofurky. (Keep your jokes to yourself. We had it last Thanksgiving and it was wonderful!) So what is the origin of the name Tofurky (Tofu Turkey)? The English word "tofu" comes from the Japanese tōfu (豆腐), which itself derives from the Chinese dòufu (豆腐 or 荳腐). Although in both languages the characters together translate as "bean curd," the literal meaning of the individual characters is "bean" (豆) and "curdled" (腐). Yum!