The origin of the word's meaning comes from Elizabethan England where most houses only had one chair with arms, where the man of the house and only him sat. The chair was usually coveted as a means to assert authority in the household and was usually high on the list of inherited items when the man died.

The term 'chairman of the board' also comes from the same origins. The 'board' was the dinner table which was a flat piece of wood that could be turned over after dinner to dump dinner scraps on the floor for dogs and other pets. The coveted chair was pulled from the fireplace to closer to the board where the man sat at the head of the table, thereby gaining the name, 'chairman of the board.'