What’s in a Name?
In December last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a communiqué, tweaking the country’s internationally recognised name from “Turkey” to Türkiye. He ordered to use “Türkiye,” instead of phrases such as ‘Turkey’, ‘Turkei’ or ‘Turquie’, in all kinds of activities and correspondence. According to the communiqué, the decision aims to strengthen the country’s brand and preserve the values that come from the deep-rooted history of the Turkish nation. “The word Türkiye represents and expresses the culture, civilisation and values of the Turkish nation in the best way,” said the communiqué. Furthermore, if it is used in international trade activities, the name will become more of a brand that will represent the country’s experience in various fields.
Well, in the Turkish language, the country is called Türkiye. The country adopted this name after it declared independence in 1923 from the occupying Western powers.
Over the centuries, Europeans have referred to, firstly the Ottoman state and then to Türkiye, by many names. But the name that has stuck most is the Latin “Turquia” and the more ubiquitous “Turkey.”
Type “Turkey” into Google, and you will get a muddled set of images, articles, and dictionary definitions that conflate the country with Meleagris – otherwise known as the turkey, a large bird native to North America – which is famous for being served on Christmas menus or Thanksgiving dinners.
Flip through the Cambridge Dictionary and “turkey” is defined as “something that fails badly” or “a stupid or silly person.”
That association, while not flattering, has its roots in a mix-up that goes back centuries.
One version of history has that when European colonisers set foot in North America, they ran into wild turkeys, a bird that they mistakenly assumed was similar to the guinea fowl, which was native to eastern Africa and imported to Europe through the Ottoman Empire.
Europeans called the guinea fowl the turkey-cock or turkey-hen – and the rest is history, and a dinner table menu.
The vast majority of people in Türkiye feel that calling the country by its local variation only makes sense and is in keeping with the country’s aims of determining how others should identify it.
In a nod to that, the recently published communique was clear that “within the scope of strengthening the ‘Türkiye’ brand, in all kinds of activities and correspondence, especially in official relations with other states and international institutions and organisations, necessary sensitivity will be shown on the use of the phrase ‘Türkiye’ instead of phrases such as ‘Turkey,’ ‘Turkei,’ ‘Turquie’ etc.”
Yet, the government’s announcement is only catching up with what some business associations have been practicing for decades.
In January 2020, the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TİM) and umbrella organisation of Turkish exports announced that it would use “Made in Türkiye” on all its labels in a bid to standardise branding and the identity of Turkish businesses on the international stage.