The words lute and oud possibly derive from Arabic al-ʿoud (العود - literally means "the wood"). It may refer to the wooden plectrum traditionally used for playing the oud, to the thin strips of wood used for the back, or to the wooden soundboard that distinguished it from similar instruments with skin-faced bodies. Henry George Farmer considers the similitude between al-ʿūd and al-ʿawda ("the return" – of bliss).
Multiple theories have been proposed for the origin of the Arabic name. A music scholar by the name of Eckhard Neubauer suggested that oud may be an Arabic borrowing from the Persian word rōd or rūd, which meant string. Another researcher, archaeomusicologist Richard J. Dumbrill, suggests that rud came from the Sanskrit rudrī (रुद्री, meaning "string instrument") and transferred to Arabic and European languages by way of a Semitic language. However, another theory according to Semitic language scholars, is that the Arabic ʿoud is derived from Syriac ʿoud-a, meaning "wooden stick" and "burning wood"—cognate to Biblical Hebrew 'ūḏ, referring to a stick used to stir logs in a fire.