What do you call a turkey in Turkey? An india! So what do you call an india in India? A peru! English isn’t the only language that likes to name its birds after countries.

Before you ask what you call a peru in Peru, just look at the chart:

The name for turkey in many different languages.

It turns out most languages name this bird after a foreign country. And when you trace the names from country to country, you almost always end up in Peru.

Is that right?

Well… no, the diagram above is not quite correct. The most important links in the diagram are over-simplified. In particular:

Turkish was not the only widespread language in Turkey when turkeys came to Europe. Three languages were widespread in Turkey at the time: Turkish, Mesopotamian Arabic, and Kurmanji Kurdish. Turkish has two words for “turkey”: one refers to India, and the other is culuk, from an Ottoman word for “woodcock”. Mesopotamian Arabic and Kurmanji Kurdish both have onomatopoeia names: alu alu and elok, respectively. So while some people from Turkey would eventually call a turkey an “india”, not everybody would.

India has many languages. If we exclude Malayalam (see below), many of the most widespread Indian languages call the turkey a “peru”. However, some of them also call it a turkey. And some do not refer to a place at all.

The dominant language in Calicut (now Kozhikode) is Malayalam, not Hindi. Many of the references to India are actually references to the city of Kozhikode (formerly known as Calicut) where Malayalam is the dominant language. Malayalam has different words for turkey than most Indian languages. Three words are in common use: vaan kozhi (literally “mouth chicken”), thurki kozhi (literally “Turkey chicken”) or kalkkam, which comes from the Dutch word, meaning “Calicut”. So, in Kozhikode, they don’t actually call the bird a peru. They call it a mouth chicken, a turkey, or… a kozhikode.

Historically, “India” could have also meant the West Indies. The languages of the pre-Columbian West Indies primarily derived from the Arawakan language family. The most widely spoken of these languages was Taíno. Since it continued to be spoken for many years after colonization, we know the word for turkey was guanaho. (Modern Cuban Spanish still uses the word guanajo, based on the Taíno word.) The proto-Arawakan root for the word “turkey” is thought to be *mara-dii, which would have been either modified or replaced in the various Arawakan languages.

Spanish has many words for turkey. Today, the dominant language in Peru is Spanish, but Spanish has many different words for turkey. The Castilian Spanish word pavo comes from the Latin for peacock, but other names include chompipe, chumpe, gallina de la tierra, gánso, guanajo, guajolote, kókono, picho, pisco, and pípila.

Historically, “Peru” referred to the regions of South America colonized by the Spanish. The area called “Peru” roughly coincided with the Inca Empire, but did not include Mexico, which fell within New Spain. Turkeys were domesticated throughout the Americas long before the arrival of the Spanish. Therefore, instead of Spanish, we need to look at the languages of pre-colonial Peru. While most of these languages are now extinct, two such languages are still spoken today: Quechua and Aymara. The Quechua word for turkey is qallqatu, but it is unclear if this is a modern loan word referring to Kozhikode. The Aymara word for turkey is pawu, and again, it is unknown whether this word existed in pre-Columbian times, whether it derived from the modern Spanish word pavo, or whether it refers to “Peru”, another self-reference. Since turkeys are not native to Peru, the name for turkey may not have even been standardised in these regions.

So, using all of this information, we can construct a more accurate chart.

The more accurate name for turkey in many different languages.

This time, the flow through languages can go in loops and circles, and there is no single country at the end.

So where are turkeys actually from?

Turkeys are not native to Peru. In fact, they are not native to any of the lands they are named after. Turkeys are native to North and Central America. By 700 AD, wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo) were domesticated in Southern Mexico, and by 1500, this domesticated breed of turkey was widespread throughout Mexico, Central America, and parts of northern South America. This is the domesticated breed that the Spanish brought back to Europe in 1511.

Turkeys grew to be very popular in Europe and were widespread by the 1550s. They were so popular that the English colonists brought turkeys with them to New England in the early 1600s. These domesticated turkeys interbred with the much larger wild turkeys in eastern North America (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris). The hybrid turkey, now known as the American Bronze, was then exported from the Americas back to Europe, and from Europe around the world. The hybrid turkeys became even more popular than the original domesticated Mexican turkeys, and are the same turkeys we enjoy today.

Appendix: Turkey naming trivia

In Farsi, one word for turkey is bughalamun, the same as the word for “chameleon”. This word used to be the name of a colourful fabric (a damask). Like chameleons, male turkeys can change the colour of the skin on their head to red, blue, or white. This is due to the arrangement of collagen and blood vessels in their skin.

In Farsi, another word for turkey translates to “elephant bird”, a translation shared with Burmese and Thai. Male turkeys have a “snood”, a long, narrow, dangly flap of skin which hangs over the top of their beak. If you squint, this might resemble an elephant’s trunk. This snood can also contract to form a small horn, resembling a unicorn. All of these colours and shapes on its face earned it the name “seven faced bird” in Japanese and Korean.

In Greek, the translation is literally “French bird”, but the origin of the term “French” is unrelated to France. The Greek name for turkey is galopoula. The suffix poula is a feminine suffix (and pouli can also mean bird), but galo originates from romance languages, meaning cockerel. It is probably a shortened loan word from old romance languages, galo d’India. But in Greek, galo can also mean “French”. So, the Greek the reference to France is just a coincidence, and may truly be a reference to India.

Likewise, in Pennsylvania German, reference to Wales is a coincidence. The literal translation of Welschhinkel is “foreign chicken”, not “Welsh chicken”. In Pennsylvania German, Welsch does not mean Wales, it simply means “foreign”. By coincidence, the word for “foreign” bears an uncanny resemblance to the name of a country, even though the etymologies are different.

Finally, the best false etymology of all: in Malayalam, Kozhikode translates to “chicken castle” (from kozhi and kota)!

Appendix: Words for turkey

The following is a list of different translations of the word “turkey”. I have left out any words which are named after India, Kozhikode, Turkey, and Peru. Some of the languages below may have a second word named after one of these four places, which do not appear in the table, even if those names are more popular than the listed names.

I have confirmed each of these words through multiple sources. When a source is not obvious, I have linked to it.

Places with no native turkeys

Language English translation Word (latin script) Word (original script)
Albanian Sea rooster Gjel Deti  
Arabic (Egyptian) Greek (Byzantine) rooster Dik rumi ديك رومي
Arabic (Levantine) Ethiopian (Abyssinian) rooster Dik al-habas دِيك الْحَبَش⁩
Arabic (Mesopotamian) (Onomatopoeia) Alou alou علوعلو
Arabic (Moroccan) Baby Bibi بيبي⁩
Breton Spanish chicken Yar-Spagn1  
Burmese Elephant fowl Krakhcang ကြက်ဆင်
Chechen Moscow Moscal москал
Chinese Fire chicken Huǒjī (Mandarin), Fo gai (Cantonese) 火雞
Cornish Guinea chicken Yar Gyni  
Czech Rooster (from Proto-Slavic) Krocan  
Farsi Chameleon, colourful fabric Buqalamun بوقلمون
Farsi Elephant bird Fill Murgh فیل‌مرغ
German (Onomatopoeia) Pute  
German Rooster that says “trut” Truthahn  
Greek “French” bird Galopoula γαλοπούλα
Ingush Moscow Moscal москал
Italian (Onomatopoeia) Tacchino  
Japanese Seven-faced bird Shichimenchō 七面鳥
Khmer French (European) chicken Mŏən baarang មាន់បារាំង
Korean Seven-faced bird Chilmyeonjo 칠면조
Kurdish (Kurmanji) (Onomatopoeia) Elok 2  
Luxembourgish Snot hen Schnuddelhong  
Macedonian Egypt Misir мисир
Malay Dutch chicken Ayam belanda  
Pennsylvania German Foreign (Welsh) chicken Welschhinkel  
Quechua   Qallqatu  
Romanian Rooster (from Proto-Slavic) Curcan  
Scots (Onomatopoeia) Bubbly-jock  
Scottish Gaelic French rooster Coileach-Frangach  
Scottish Gaelic Warrior Pulaidh  
Serbian Rooster (from Proto-Slavic) Ćurka  
Slovak Sea/sailor Moriak  
Spanish (Colombia) Bird (from Quechua) Pisco  
Spanish (Cuba) (From Taino) Guanajo  
Spanish (El Salvador)   Chumpe  
Spanish (Guatemala)   Chompipe  
Spanish (Mexico)   Picho  
Spanish (Mexico)   Pípila  
Spanish (Mexico) (From Nahuatl) Guajolote  
Spanish (Mexico, historic) Local chicken Gallina de la tierra  
Spanish (New Mexico) (From Nahuatl “turkey chick”) Kókono  
Spanish (New Mexico) Goose Gánso  
Spanish (Spain) Peacock (from Latin) Pavo  
Swahili Cannon duck Bata mzinga  
Tamil Sky chicken Van koli வான்கோழி
Taíno   Guanaho  
Telugu Foreign/border chicken Seemakodi సీమకోడి
Turkish (from the word for woodcock) Culuk  
Vietnamese Foreign (French) chicken Gà tây  

Places with native turkeys

Language English translation Word (latin script) Word (original script)
Abenaki   Nahama  
Aymara   Pawu  
Blackfoot Big bird Ómahksipi’kssíí  
Catawba Big chicken Watkątru  
Cherokee   Gvna ᎬᎾ
Chickasaw (Onomatopoeia) Chaloklowaꞌ  
Choctaw   fakit  
Choctaw Tall chicken Aka̱k chaha  
Dakota (Suffix “taŋka” means “big”) Waglekṡuŋtaŋka  
Dakota (Suffix “taŋka” means “big”) żicataŋka  
Mayan (Classic)   Ak’ach (See here or here, figure 3)
Mayan (Q’eqchi)   Ak’ach  
Mayan (Kʼicheʼ)   no’s  
Mayan (Yucatec)   Tzo’  
Mayan (Yucatec)   Ulum  
Mayan (Yucatec) (Ocellated turkey) Kutz3 (See here or here)
Miami   Pileewa  
Mohawk   Skaweró:wane  
Mohegan-Pequot   Náham  
Munsee   Pŭléew  
Nahuatl   Huexolotl  
Nahuatl   Totollin  
Navajo (from “to peck”) Tązhii  
Ojibwe Big bird Gichi-bine  
Ojibwe Big bird Mizise  
Shawnee   Pelewa  
Shoshoni (from “to pick with teeth”) Guyungiyaa  
Unami   Chikënëm  


History of turkey domestication and etymology: Crawford (1992), Schorger (1966)

Wiktionary translations

Names for Turkey in Spanish: Kiddle (1951) (South America), du Bois (1979) (New Mexico)

Sources for names were numerous and mostly included reputable online dictionaries. Where possible, I cross-checked this real usage based on internet forum posts including: 1 2 3 4

I did not take much information from modern secondary source summaries because I found them to be less accurate, but here are some of them anyway: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Bonus! Some cartoons: Polandball, Itchy Feet

If you find any mistakes or possible additions, please let me know and I will update the article!


  1. In Breton, the bird’s name is widely cited to be yar-Spagn (“Spanish chicken”), but this word appears to be rare. The much more common name is yar-Indez (“Indian chicken”). 

  2. Kurmanji Kurdish Wikipedia claims a few more country names, including Misri (Egyptian, çûkê Misirê) and Shami (Demascus/Syria, çûkê Şamê), but I cannot seem to verify these names. 

  3. I have included the Yucatec Mayan word “kutz”, even though this word refers specifically to the ocellated turkey, a different (but closely related) species found only on the Yucatan peninsula.