The origin of the name is uncertain. The word ‘record’ has had several meanings over time, including ‘to sing like a bird’, and ‘to warble or practise a tune’. Perhaps it is the similarity between the recorder and bird song that gave rise to this name. Indeed, in the music of, for instance, Purcell and Handel, the recorder was sometimes used to imitate birdsong.
The word ‘flute’ was used in earlier times to describe both transverse (‘cross blown’) and ‘end blown’ flutes, the latter of which includes the recorder: this leads to much uncertainty as to exactly which instrument was being referred to.
Other names have been used both in this country and elsewhere:
- Fipple flute – due to the fipple or block used to narrow the end and create the windway.
- English flute, Flûte d’Angleterre possibly referring to its English origins.
- Common flute
- Consort flute – referring to the practice of producing sets or consorts which were carefully voiced and tuned so they could be played together.
- Schnabelflöte, Längsflöte, flûte á bec, all referring to its being end-blown.
- Flûte douce, Flauto dolce, soft or gentle flute, referring to its tone.
- Flûte à neuf trous, referring to the thumb hole and the split hole at the lower end allowing for left or right hand playing – the unused hole would be filled in with wax.
Nowadays it is known as the Recorder in the English-speaking world, Blockflöte in German, Flûte à Bec in French and Flauto Dolce in Italian.