Why the Bathroom is Called “the Head”

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Why is the Bathroom “the Head”
The toilet on a ship – often one for everyone on board maybe excepting the captain – was “the head.”

Why the Bathroom is Called “the Head” in the Military

Where did “the head” or other nicknames for the bathroom or the toilet come from? It’s pretty well-known where sailors used the bathroom while at sea for months on end was “the head.” It quite literally meant the head, or the front, of the ship. For more, if you want to keep going on this topic, keep reading.

The toilet on a ship – often one for everyone on board maybe excepting the captain – was “the head.” It goes back to the centuries of sails and when the British Navy covered an empire the sun never set on.

The front of the ship was called the head because ships had large figureheads built at the front. As far as picking that spot for taking, uh, doing one’s business, there were a few rational reasons for it. A sailing vessel can’t sail straight into the wind. The one place on the ship always downwind is the front. This, hopefully, kept most of the odor away.

Next, it was a way to, well, get rid of the waste. All some ships had were rails for a sailor to hold onto, relieve himself out over the sea, and that was it. Luxury accommodations would’ve been a plank seat with a hole, still “flushing” straight down into the ocean.

Consequently, any kind of seafarer with the need to head to the toilet required going to the head. The nickname has hung around even as modern-day ships and sailors don’t have to resort to the same means and danger.

More names, slang or nicknames for the bathroom or a commode vary around the globe. Here are a few you might have heard.


It is not known specifically why a loo is called a loo. But there are a couple ideas which maybe a pretty good theories.

First, perhaps the word loo is derived from the ancient Scottish word gardyloo. Scots said gardyloo like a golfer yells fore. Except this was meant as a warning to those walking on the street to look out for waste, water, and anything else in a chamber pot, being tossed out an upper-floor window above.

The next theory is a little more likely of an explanation. The thought here is that loo originates from the famous English toilet manufacturer Waterloo. The brand was so widely used in England it became slang, then shortened slang, down to going to, or using, the loo.


Latrine is a word often used to describe the bathroom in the United States armed forces and in several former English colonies in other parts of the world.


Dunny is what Australians call an outdoors toilet or a pit toilet in the bush. It comes from the word dunnekin which means, quite directly, dung house. So if you’re ever in the Australian outback you need to ask for a dunny when you need to go number two.


Unlike the word loo, where the word lavatory comes from is clearer. This is since it is derived from the word lav, which means to clean in Latin. To put it simply, lavatory is an old word which was for a wash basin. In the more present day, the term lavatory has actually become a courteous synonym for a bathroom or toilet. The majority of the top airlines around the world call their bathrooms as lavatories.

Jacks, Jakes

The term jacks meaning toilets is thought to stem from the word jakes, which was the term for bathrooms in 16th century England. While Brits aren’t often referring to bathrooms as jacks or jakes these days, the term is still used quite frequently in Ireland.

Water Closet

The initials WC mean Water Closet. A WC sign on a bathroom is a polite way of stating a toilet is a flush toilet. WC signs are found often in countries such as France, Germany, Netherlands, Mexico and more. It is particularly prominent in premium dining establishments and various other high-end facilities.


Saying bog is slang for toilet. It used to mean and still means an open cesspit or a wet, swampy area of land. It is also what lots of youth call a commode. Bogroll is slang for toilet paper.


John is commonly used slang for the bathroom or the toilet in the United States.

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