Since it’s Thanksgiving, I figured I’d tell you about a kid named Turkey.

Turkey is one of my 5th graders.  The first time I met his class I had the students make name tags with their English names on one side and their Korean names on the back.  Most kids didn’t have English names, so I put last year’s 100 most popular American boy and girl names in a bag and had them draw one.  Whatever they pulled was their name.

I kept the name tags in the classroom.  Students would pick up their name tag at the beginning of class and drop it off at the end.  For most kids this process worked fine, but this one kid ate his name tag.  And since he’s the kind of kid who eats name tags, he’s also the kind of kid who doesn’t remember his English name.  After a couple of weeks I got sick of referring to him as “No Name Kid” and thought, ‘Fuck it.  Your name’s Turkey.’  So we made a new name tag for him and he’s been Turkey ever since.

I know you might be thinking, ‘that’s a shitty thing to do to a kid’.  And you’d be right, if we were in the US or another Western country.  But before I left for Korea, I talked with several people who had taught here.  One guy said he gave all his students animal names and they loved it.  It seemed bizarre to me, but at the same time delightful.  What kind of kids love being called animal names?  But I figured if it worked for him, it could work for me.  It still felt a little wrong, but I went with it.

So back to the kid- he had no idea what “turkey” meant.  No one in his class knew what “turkey” meant either.  Except one girl who giggles everytime I call on him.

“Turkey!  Sit down!”

“Turkey!  Stop talking!”

“Don’t do that Turkey!”

“Turkey!  Stop!”

“Turkey!  No!”

Are you listening Turkey?”

“TURKEY!”

The first month of school he was so annoying- always finding some reason to get into trouble.  He was one of those kids you just want to kick in the face, but you don’t because, unlike him, you have self control.

Turkey

Henry, trying to hold down a rambunctious Turkey.

But then he started to calm down, actually take an interest in class, and he even started to feel pride for his name.  “I TURKEY!” he’d say beaming.  I would feel a little bad that I had given him such a stupid name, but then I’d have to remember it was probably okay here.

The thing with kids like Turkey is they are never truly reformed.  Their good days never last that long.  Within a few weeks Turkey was back to his old self and he was a mixed bag.  One minute he’d be calmly doing his work, the next he’d be screaming about something.  Then he’d beg for you to call on him, followed by chasing someone in the back of the room for 10 seconds, then back to his desk to rip paper.  When he wanted someone’s attention, instead of calling their name he’d bob his head forward and make a spitting/farting noise.

Sometimes I pull up videos of wild turkeys attacking people.  I watch, then look up at him, then look at the video, then look at him, and I think, ‘Turkey is the perfect name for this kid.’

A few weeks ago Turkey started to catch on that something was off about his name.  He asked my co-teacher, “Is Turkey a real name?  For humans?”  She covered for me and said, “Oh yes.  There are some people with the name Turkey.”  Apparently he didn’t fully believe her, but he accepted it.

Then the other day I was making a PowerPoint presentation about Thanksgiving.  Several of his classmates crowded around my desk to see what I was doing, and of course they said “turkey?” when I was making the slide about food.  As soon as he heard his name he excitedly ran over because he thought we were talking about him.  “I TURKEY!”  I said, “Yes, you are” as I shut the presentation.  I couldn’t let the cat of the bag just yet.

Today was finally the day he’d find out what his name means. I was apprehensive to tell him.  What if he got angry and became more aggressive in class because he didn’t like his name?  Or me for giving him that name?  But I figured I’d just do it and cross that bridge if and when I came to it.

Turns out Turkey fucking loves his name, especially now that he knows what it means. Every time I said his name during my presentation he got excited. I even used him as a model turkey to explain how to prepare one. “You cut off the head. A lot of blood squirts out and the body keeps moving like it’s still alive.” His natural body movements fit the description perfectly.

The last thing we did was make Thanksgiving cards saying what we were thankful for. His said, “I’m thankful for Turkey!” (And then he made a second saying he’s thankful for his mom.) He also begged his class to please not kill turkeys “because they should not die.”

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Turkey while he makes his card.

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Turkey’s finished card. It matches his coat.

So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful that my 10-year-old-boy sense of humor was favorably received.

[Spit-fart noise in your face!]