Why is the Toilet Called the Head? Get Facts Here!

Written by

Paulk Webb


Freddie J. Hagopian

Saveourwaterrebates is reader-supported. When you buy via our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Learn more

why is the toilet called the head

You probably didn’t expect a bathroom fixture like the commode to be called the “head” in nautical terms, and now you’re curious. Why is the toilet called the head, anyway?

The origin of this word comes from the early days of sailing ships, as toilets were located at the bow, front, or head of a ship during the early centuries. The logic is that the downwind would blow the smell of the waste away from the ship.

Term Origins: “Head” for a Bathroom on a Ship

Source: quora.com

With voyagers and explorers sailing through the seas, a toilet on a boat is a must to relieve waste. However, water vessels weren’t as sophisticated as they are today, especially during the 16th century.

Without the modern plumbing system that we have today, sanitation facilities are primitive, and people performed what was more practical during that time. There were two things to consider:

  1. The waste should have an exit. The head allowed the waste to fall directly into the sea or ocean, and the splashing water below naturally cleaned the toilets.
  2. The smell should not go back into the vessel. The head—meaning the bowsprit or the front of the ship—was the most reasonable location because it was downwind.

Who Coined the “Head” in the Toilet’s Name?


The early evidence of the toilet being coined the “head” was seen in Woodes Rogers’ book entitled A Cruising Voyage Around the World in 1708. Rogers was the first Royal Governor of the Bahamas, and he was also a sea captain and privateer.

In Tobias Smollett’s book entitled Roderick Random in 1748, the author also mentioned the head to refer to the commode on a ship.

Since then, the word has been the slang for toilet, even though water vessels have been modernized by technology. The commodes could even be in other places, permitted by advanced plumbing systems, but sailors would still call them the “head.”

Are There Other Slangs for Toilet?


We’ve mentioned that the word “head” is the Navy term for bathroom, but are there other ones? Well, you’re in for new vocabulary!

1. Throne: While considered a euphemism, an insightful interpretation is that during the early times, only the royals and rulers of the castle had access to the toilet.

2. Loo: This is an in informal British way to call the toilet; it stemmed from guardez l’eau; a French phrase meaning “watch out for the water.”

3. Bog: Another informal British term for the toilet. It refers to a cesspit and a privy/outdoor toilet connected to it.

4. Can: It’s an American and Canadian slang that you’ll probably hear aside from the more formal “restroom” and “washroom.”

5. John: There are two possible explanations for this.

  • The first is that during the medieval era, common names of men, such as Jack and Jake, were also used to refer to objects.
  • The second is that John Harrington was the one who invented the toilet’s flushing mechanism.

6. Crapper: During World War I, the commodes in England were manufactured by Thomas Crapper & Co Ltd.

7. Lavatory: It came from the Latin word “lavare” which means to wash, then evolved into “lavatorium” meaning washbasin. The latter is a room for washing that also has toilets in it.

8. Latrine: Another term with Latin and French origins, this is how the Army refers to the bathroom.

9. Water Closet (WC): Back when houses were finally getting a plumbing system for a bathroom, the toilet would be located in a remodeled closet. Today, a water closet may refer to a separate room inside a bathroom containing the toilet inside for privacy purposes.

10. Dunny: This is an Australian and New Zealand slang for head (especially an outdoor toilet).

11. Restroom: An American way to refer to the bathroom instead of saying “toilet” out of modesty.

12. Washroo: A Canadian version of the word restroom, this word is also used to politely refer to the toilet.


The answer to why is the toilet called the head is simple: the toilets of ships and boats back in the 16th century were located at the bow, front, or the head of the vessel.

Since modern plumbing systems didn’t exist, the solution was to place the toilet downwind and where the waste could exit the ship (which fell straight into the ocean and sea). The water splashing also cleaned the area, which added to the benefit.

5/5 - (2 votes)