There are lots of theories about where the word rum came from. Some say it is a shortened version of Rumbustion which was a slang terms for “tumult” or “uproar”. which does have a ring of truth as consuming lots of rum could certainly cause a bit a fighting!
Another explanation is that it is derived from the Dutch word roemer, which means large glass. In English this is pronounced rummer. As the Dutch visited the Barbados a lot in the 17th Century and sailors would have undoubtedly been heavy rum drinkers this is a strong possibility too.
Another theory holds that the word is derived from rummage, this was a word used for the ship’s hold, where the rum would eventually be stored for the long journeys across the Atlantic.
The most likely, however also the most boring, suggestion is that the word rum comes from the Latin word for sugar cane saccharum officinarum.
Although you can’t ignore the fact that there was a drink called brum being produced by the Malay people many years ago. It is accepted that fermented drinks from sugar cane were around in the earliest ages so it is likely that this could be a source for the name also.
Other people are certain that the name rum originated from Barbados, where the first rum exports came from as the first recorded written usage of the word “Rum Bullion” appeared on the Island in 1651.
Other names for Rum
Some of the many other names for rum are Nelson’s Blood, Demon Water, Red Eye, Pirate’s Drink, Navy Neaters, Devil’s Death (or Kill Devil), Rumbo and Barbados water. All these names are around the theme of rum being fiery & strong, and leading the drinker into sin or worse!
Richard Ligon wrote in 1647 that slaves on plantations in Barbados would consume kill-devil and described it as a “hot, hellish and terrible liquor”. It was obviously pretty rough in the old days!
The reason it is called ‘Nelson’s Blood’ by some is that it was believed that Admiral Nelson’s body was carried back to England in a barrel of Rum to preserve it, though this is now disputed.
So how did rum gets its name? Who knows, but just like any good night on the booze – there’s a few good stories to tell.