The name cello is a contraction of the Italian violoncello, which means “little violone”. The violone (“big viol”) was the lowest-pitched instrument of the viol family, the group of stringed instruments that went out of fashion around the end of the 17th century in most countries except France, where they survived another half-century before the louder violin family came into greater favour in that country as well. In modern symphony orchestras, it is the second largest stringed instrument (the double bass is the largest). Thus, the name “violoncello” contained both the augmentative “-one” (“big”) and the diminutive “-cello” (“little”). By the turn of the 20th century, it had become customary to shorten the name to ‘cello, with the apostrophe indicating the missing prefix It is now customary to use “cello” without apostrophe as the full designation.Viol is derived from the root viola, which was derived from Medieval Latin vitula, meaning stringed instrument.

The direct ancestor to the violoncello was the bass violin. Monteverdi referred to the instrument as “basso de viola da braccio” in Orfeo (1607). Although the first bass violin, possibly invented as early as 1538, was most likely inspired by the viol, it was created to be used in consort with the violin. The bass violin was actually often referred to as a “violone,” or “large viola,” as were the viols of the same period. Instruments that share features with both the bass violin and the viola da gamba appear in Italian art of the early 16th century.

The invention of wire-wrapped strings in Bologna gave the cello greater versatility. By the 18th century, the cello had largely replaced other mid-sized bowed instruments.

Around 1700, Italian players popularized the cello in northern Europe, although the bass violin (basse de violon) continued to be used for another two decades in France. Many existing bass violins were literally cut down in size to convert them into cellos according to the smaller pattern developed by Stradivarius, who also made a number of old pattern large cellos (the ‘Servais’). The sizes, names, and tunings of the cello varied widely by geography and time.The size was not standardized until around 1750.

Despite similarities to the viola da gamba, the cello is actually part of the viola da braccio family, meaning “viol of the arm,” which includes, among others, the violin and viola. Though paintings like Bruegel’s “The Rustic Wedding”, and Jambe de Fer in his Epitome Musical suggest that the bass violin had alternate playing positions, these were short-lived and the more practical and ergonomic a gamba position eventually replaced them entirely.

Apart from the use of the instrument in Western music (and meaning not only classical, but also contemporary genres such as jazz, rock, pop, folk, etc.) Its use expanded in different cultures, including Indian, Arabic and Turkish.

Cello appears to Turkey in the early 20th century with Tanburi Cemil Bey, and later on his son, Mesud Cemil.