The name "Barnim" emerged in the 13th century and was applied to a large forest region east of the Havel and north of the Spree on the homonymous plateau, where noblemen used to hunt. The present district is roughly identical with, but somewhat smaller than this historical region.
The district was established in 1993 by merging the former districts of Bernau and Eberswalde.
The coat of arms of the district resembles the coat of arms of the former district Oberbarnim. The only difference is that the old one had a silver top half and a red bottom half, while the current one is split into four parts and in the right half exchanged red and silver. The eagle in the top half is the eagle of Brandenburg.