Turkeys were domesticated in ancient Mexico, to serve as food and/or for their cultural and symbolic purposes. The Aztecs, for example, gave the turkey the name with-xolo-to (guajolote in Spanish), a word still used in modern Mexico alongside the general term pavo. Spanish chroniclers described the abundance of food on offer in Tenochtitlán’s extensive market (poleuis), provided there are tamales made from turkey, iguanas, chocolate, vegetables, fruit, and many more. The ancient peoples of Mexico not only domesticated the turkey but also developed sophisticated recipes including these ingredients – widely used today – for hundreds of years. However, they hunted turkeys instead of raising them way back in the past before they think of domesticating those birds, and even some people can do it today if they know how to bait turkeys.
There are two theories for the derivation of the name turkey, according to Columbia University professor of Romantic Languages Mario Pei. One theory is that when Europeans first encountered turkeys in America, they mistakenly identified the birds as a type of guineafowl, which had already been imported to Europe by Turkish traders via Constantinople and was therefore dubbed the Turkish coq. The name of the North American bird thus became fowl turkey or Indian turkey, which was later shortened to just turkey.
The second theory arises from the turkeys arriving in England not directly from America, but via merchant ships from the Middle East, where they were successfully domesticated. Again the importer lent the bird the name; Middle Eastern traders were called Turkish traders because most of the region was part of the Ottoman Empire. Hence their names are Turki-chicken and hen-Turki, and soon after, turkey.
In 1550, an English navigator William Strickland, who had brought turkeys to England, has been awarded with a badge including “turkey-cock in his pride proper.” William Shakespeare used the term on the Twelfth Night, believed to have been written in 1601 or 1602. The lack of context around its use indicates that the term was widespread.