The choice of "flautist" (from the Italian flautista, from flauto, and adopted due to eighteenth century Italian influence) versus "flutist" is the source of minor dispute among players of the instrument. "Flutist" is the earlier term in the English language, dating from at least 1603 (the earliest quote cited by the Oxford English Dictionary), while "flautist" is not recorded before 1860, when it was used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Marble Faun. While the print version of the OED does not indicate any regional preference for either form, the online Compact OED characterizes "flutist" as an American usage.
Richard Rockstro in his three volume treatise The Flute written in England in 1890 uses "flute-player".
The American player and writer Nancy Toff, in her The Flute Book, devotes more than a page to the subject, commenting that she is asked "Are you a flutist or a flautist?" on a weekly basis. She prefers "flutist": "Ascribe my insistence either to a modest lack of pretension or to etymological evidence; the result is the same." Toff, who is also an editor for Oxford University Press , describes in some detail the etymology of words for "flute", comparing OED, Fowler's Dictionary of Modern Usage, Evans' Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage, and Copperud's American Usage and Style: The Consensus before arriving at her conclusion.
The first edition of the OED lists fluter as dating from circa 1400 and Fowler's Modern English Usage states that "there seems no good reason" why flautist should have prevailed over fluter or flutist. However, according to Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, flautist is the preferred term in British English, and while both terms are used in American English flutist is "by far the more common choice".
James Galway summed up the way many players of the flute feel about "flautist", saying, "I am a flute player, not a flautist. I don't have a flaut, and I've never flauted."