Kannur district derived its name from the location of its headquarters at Kannur town. The old name ‘Cannanore’ is the anglicized form of the Malayalam word Kannur. According to one opinion, ‘Kannur’ is a derivation from Kanathur, an ancient village, the name of which survives even today in one of the wards of Kannur Municipality. Another version is that Kannur might have assumed its name from one of the , deity of the Hindu pantheon, a compound of two words, Kannan (Lord Krishna) and Ur (place) making it the place of Lord Krishna.
The Kannur district was formed in 1st January 1957, when the erstwhile Malabar District and Kasaragode taluk of Madras state were reconstituted into three districts viz.-Kannur, Kozhikode and Palakkad. At that time, this district consists of 6 Taluks including Mananthawady, (Now in Waynadu District) Kasaragode and Hosdurg (Now in Kasaragod District). Waynadu District was formed in 1980 and Kasaragode District in 1984.