Rum by Any Other Name

Speculation envelopes the origins of the word “rum”.

Some people have said the term is derived from the word “rummage”. But that word actually dates back to 1582 and implies that a person is making a thorough search of something or some place. 

Others have said the word descends from the British word “rummer”—or German roemer—which is a type of wine glass. But these vessels appeared in Europe at the same time as the cane-juice liquor, not beforehand.

There is one romantic suggestion that the term “rum” is an abbreviated version of “rumney”, a type of sweet wine made in Greece and the southern Balkans that was very popular during the 1400s and 1500s in England.

According to nineteenth-century philologist Walter William Skeat, the term is an Anglicised version of the Malay word “brum”, which is an arrack made from sugar cane juice. Historian Frederick H. Smith found that the first documented use of the word “rum” appears in a plantation deed recorded in Barbados in 1650, which identifies the Three Houses estate in St. Philip parish as having “four large mastick cisterns for liquor for Rum.

A year later, Barbardos resident Giles Silvester made the only known reference link- ing the words “rum” and “rumbullion” when he wrote: “the chiefe fudling they make in the lland is Rumbullions, also Kill Divill, and this is made of Suggar cones distilled in a hott hellish and terrible liquor.” 

The term “rumbullion” was a common word in Devonshire, England that means “a great tumult.”

However, its birth came about, the word “rum” was adopted during the 1600s throughout the Caribbean colonies. First appearing in the 1750s in Diderot and Alembert’s Encyclopedie, the word “rhum” with an “h” is specifically employed to describe rums made in French colonies such as Martinique and Guadeloupe. 

The word “ron”, indicates the sugar cane liquor was produced in Spanish colonies, the most famous of which is the island of Cuba.

Anistatia and Jared’s incredible book, The Spirit of the Cane is available to buy now. So make sure you do!

About the Authors

The inseparable cocktail couple, Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, are the directors of Mixellany Limited®, a consultancy and publishing company that specialises in anything and everything to do with spirits and mixed drinks. During the course of their 20+ year collaboration, Miller and Brown have written more than 30 books including Shaken Not Stirred®: A Celebration of the Martini, Champagne Cocktails, Cuban Cocktails, The Mixellany Guide to Vermouth & Other Aperitifs, and The Deans of Drink.

Miller and Brown were co-founders of the Museum of the American Cocktail with Dale and Jill DeGroff. They were the curators of a three-year project in the south of France, restoring Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiritueux, a museum of wines and spirits founded in 1958, and cataloguing the 8000+ bottles, 1200 menus, and other antiquities in the collection.

Welcome to DrinkTV. We ask that you please be aware of our privacy & cookies policy before viewing content on this site.


Scroll to Top