The sense evolutions present some difficulties, and in some 17c. and early 18c. references it is difficult to say what sort of instrument is intended. Earlier names for this type of instrument were tambour de basque (1680s), also timbre and timbrel. Tambour itself is attested in English from late 15c., and Shakespeare has tabourine.
geometric figure, "oblique-angled equilateral parallelogram," 1570s, from French rhombe, from Latin rhombus "a magician's circle," also a kind of fish, which in Late Latin took on also the geometric sense. This is from Greek rhombos "circular movement, spinning motion; spinning-top; magic wheel used by sorcerers; tambourine;" also "a geometrical rhomb," also the name of a flatfish.
Watkins has this from rhembesthai "to spin, whirl," from PIE *wrembh-, from *werbh- "to turn, twist, bend" (source also of Old English weorpan "to throw away"), from root *wer- (2) "to turn, bend" (see versus). But Beekes connects rhombos to rhembomai "to go about, wander, roam about, act random," despite this being attested "much later," a word of no clear etymology.
In general use in reference to any lozenge-shaped object. Related: Rhombic.
c. 1200, "a servant, a functionary;" c. 1300, "instrumental musician, singer or storyteller;" from Old French menestrel "entertainer, poet, musician; servant, workman;" also "a good-for-nothing, a rogue," from Medieval Latin ministralis "servant, jester, singer," from Late Latin ministerialem (nominative ministerialis) "imperial household officer, one having an official duty," from ministerialis (adj.) "ministerial," from Latin ministerium (see ministry). The connecting notion to entertainers is the jester, musician, etc., as a court position.
Specific sense of "musician" developed in Old French, and the Norman conquest introduced the class into England, where they assimilated with the native gleemen. But in English from late 14c. to 16c. the word was used of anyone (singers, storytellers, jugglers, buffoons) whose profession was to entertain patrons. Their social importance and reputation in England deteriorated and by Elizabethan times they were ranked as a public nuisance. Only in 18c. English was the word limited, in a historical sense, to "medieval singer of heroic or lyric poetry who accompanied himself on a stringed instrument." Compare troubadour, jongleur.
By 1843 in American English in reference to a class of singers of "Negro melodies" and delineators of "plantation life," usually white men in blackface (burnt cork). The act itself dates to c. 1830.
The characteristic feature of such a troupe or band is the middle-man or interlocutor, who leads talk and gives the cues, and the two end-men, who usually perform on the tambourine and the bones, and between whom the indispensable conundrums and jokes are exchanged. As now constituted, a negro-minstrel troupe retains but little of its original character except the black faces and the old jokes. [Century Dictionary, 1895]