Ever wondered why bathrooms or restroom are called head? Have you noticed that the names often used when referring to bathrooms such as lavatory or restroom, are quite obscure?
Few of us are familiar with the origin of the term “head” used when referring to a toilet. To get a better understanding, we have to go way back to the days of seafaring. Let’s explore how the term “head” was coined for toilet and find out why the bathroom is still called the head to this day.
Why is the Bathroom Called the Head?
The shipboard lavatory, also known as the latrine or the “head”, is an important but overlooked part of maritime history. It’s also a fascinating look into how language has evolved, and how everyday expressions have come to mean something totally different.
On land, the lavatory was known simply as the bathroom, but on a ship, it changed drastically in name, function, and design. Why is the bathroom called the head on ships, and why don’t land-based bathrooms carry the same moniker?
Let’s take a look!
The Evolution of “the Head”The term “the head” first emerged on ships and boats of all sizes as a result of the Naval Act of 179
All vessels of the British Navy needed to commit to the same exact bathroom structure and layout, so the term “head” was used to describe it. Originally, the term was used to describe the front of the ship, where the bathroom was located in the frontmost part of the vessel. The poop deck, or the raised deck at the back of the ship, was where the helmsman controlled the rudder, so referring to the bathroom as the head made perfect sense.
Eventually, the “head” started to appear across all vessels, regardless of size or purpose. Even recreational sailboats used the term, and it’s even part of the official rules of sailing used in many modern-day races.
The Slang Behind the NameThere’s another reason why the term “the head” is so pervasive in maritime culture, and it has to do with how sailors talk.
Sailors were known for using slang words to describe certain objects and processes to make them more entertaining. As it turns out, the phrase “to go to the head” was originally used to describe the act of urinating, so the bathroom eventually became known as the “head”.
The term is still used today, and it’s a reminder of how language has evolved over time.