The street was originally called Queene Street in medieval times before becoming known as Knyfesmyth Street, after the tradesmen there. The Middle English pronunciation of Knyfesmyth, with the K sounded, may be the origin of the street's modern name. An alternative theory is based on the nativity scene found in a stained glass window of The Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, which stands at the top of the steps.

In the 17th century, the Christmas Steps is also believed to have been called Lonsford’s Stairs for a short period, in honour of a Cavalier officer who was killed at the top of the steps during the siege of Bristol in the English Civil War.

After the main set of steps the steps continue on the other side of Colston Street and then again across Perry Lane, leading to St Michael's Church these steps were originally unbroken by road and known as St. Michael's steps

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