Tales abound on how turkeys got their name. One theory suggests the moniker was a holdover from ancient times, when merchants selling game birds followed shipping routes through Turkey on their way to European markets. Rumor has it the name was given to birds then. Only snag was there weren’t any wild turkeys in Europe to ship; the birds headed for market were more likely guinea fowl.
Another possibly more plausible theory hinges on the Ottoman Empire. In the 1500s, Spaniards plundered their way across Mexico. There, the conquistadors snapped up the already-domesticated (and delicious) common turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, and took it back to Spain.
A few decades later, during the reign of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, turkeys made their debut in English kitchens. At the time, it was “tres chic” to add the word “Turkey” and “Turkish” to names plants and foods new to English homes. For example, maize and pumpkins, even though they were New World plants that had nothing to do with Turkey or Ottomans or empires, were respectively known as “Turkish wheat” and “Turkish cucumbers.” As for our big bird that originally hailed from Mexico, it became know as a “Turkey-cock,” which was eventually shortened to turkey.