or ban·dan·a

[ ban-dan-uh ]
/ bænˈdæn ə /
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a large, printed handkerchief, typically one with white spots or figures on a red or blue background.
any large scarf for the neck or head.
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Origin of bandanna

1745–55; earlier bandanno (second syllable unstressed) <Hindi bā̃dhnū tie dyeing


ban·dan·naed [ban-dan-uhd], /bænˈdæn əd/, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does bandanna mean?

A bandanna is a type of large handkerchief, usually patterned and brightly colored. While used for many purposes, bandannas are commonly worn on the head, to hold back hair or absorb sweat, or around the neck to protect it from the sun.

Today, bandannas are often printed with a distinctive paisley pattern, are square, are made from cotton, and come in a variety of colors. Historically, bandannas were patterned with white spots on a red or blue background. Such a bandanna—red with white spots—is featured in the “We Can Do It!” wartime poster from 1943 created by graphic designer J. Howard Miller for Westinghouse Electric to help boost morale for its workers during World War II. In popular culture, the iconic, bicep-flexing woman wearing the bandanna in the poster has become Rosie the Riveter, though she is not technically that original character.


Another notable bandanna in U.S. history dates back to the very founding of the country itself. At the request of Martha Washington, the printmaker John Hewson, fashioned a red-and-white bandana featuring George Washington on horseback, his sword drawn and encircled by the words “George Washington, Esq. Foundator and Protector of America’s Liberty and Independency.”

Indeed, as the Washington bandanna shows, this textile has a long history not just of fashion and function but also to signal various groups, identities, and causes. Different colored bandannas were displayed as sexual code in the 1970s gay culture. Different colored bandanas have also been used to represent various gang affiliations.

Still, the bandanna remains a very practical item. During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, many people used bandannas as makeshift, non-medical face masks to help prevent and protect themselves from the virus, which can spread through droplets expelled by coughing, sneezing, laughing, talking, and breathing.

Where does bandanna come from?

First recorded around 1745–55, the word bandanna comes from the Hindi bā̃dhnū, meaning “tie-dyeing.” Tie-dyeing is a process of dyeing fabrics by tying off parts of it, which prevents those parts from getting the dye and producing patterns as a result. And the practice of tie-dyeing is far older than any rainbow-colored, peace-and-loving attire of the 1960s.

Now, the Hindi bā̃dhnū is based on bāndhnā, “to tie,” derived from bandhati, a verb in the ancient language of Sanskrit meaning “he binds.” The word bind, here, is no coincidence. Bind is cognate to bandhati, as they are both derived from a common ancestor. That means bind and bandanna are related—if distantly.

An earlier form of bandanna was bandanno. Bandanna was probably first adopted in Portuguese and from there borrowed into English.

Bandannas may also bring to mind the Wild West, the textile worn by cowboys on the ranch—or hiding the face of bandits holding up the saloon. This connection may make you wonder: is the word bandanna related to bandit? Despite some similarity in spelling, bandit derives from the Italian banditi, “outlaws,” formed from a verb meaning “to bandish.”

Bandanna vs. bandana

Bandanna can also be spelled bandana. In fact, data indicates that the spelling bandana is becoming more common. But, whether you prefer spelling the word with two or three n’s, both bandanna and bandana are correct.

How to use bandanna in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for bandanna



/ (bænˈdænə) /

a large silk or cotton handkerchief or neckerchief

Word Origin for bandanna

C18: from Hindi bāndhnū tie-dyeing, from bāndhnā to tie, from Sanskrit bandhnāti he ties
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012