c. 1200, persoun, "an individual, a human being," from Old French persone "human being, anyone, person" (12c., Modern French personne) and directly from Latin persona "human being, person, personage; a part in a drama, assumed character," originally "a mask, a false face," such as those of wood or clay, covering the whole head, worn by the actors in later Roman theater. OED offers the general 19c. explanation of persona as "related to" Latin personare "to sound through" (i.e. the mask as something spoken through and perhaps amplifying the voice), "but the long o makes a difficulty ...." Klein and Barnhart say it is possibly borrowed from Etruscan phersu "mask." De Vaan has no entry for it.
From mid-13c. as "one of the persons of the Trinity," a theological use in Church Latin of the classical word. Meanings "one's physical being, the living body; external appearance" are from late 14c. In grammar, "one of the relations which a subject may have to a verb," from 1510s. In legal use, "corporate body or corporation other than the state and having rights and duties before the law," 15c., short for person aggregate (c. 1400), person corporate (mid-15c.).
The use of -person to replace -man in compounds for the sake of gender neutrality or to avoid allegations of sexism is recorded by 1971 (in chairperson). In person "by bodily presence" is from 1560s. Person-to-person is attested by 1919, originally of telephone calls.
WANTED, an experienced LADY ASSISTANT, good salesperson, for a Bookseller's and Stationer's Shop, with Library. Permanent to a suitable person. Apply W. PORTER and SONS, Herald Office, Blackpool. [advertisement in The Bookseller, May 4, 1875]
mid-15c., "body of a person" (with regard to appearance), also "notable person, a man or woman of high rank or distinction," from Old French personage "size, stature," also "a dignitary" (13c.), from Medieval Latin personaticum (11c.), from Latin persona (see person). As a longer way to say person, the word was in use from 1550s (but often slyly ironical, with suggestion that the subject is overly self-important).
late 13c., person (late 12c. as a surname), "parish priest" (later often applied to a clergyman in general), from Anglo-French and Old French persone "curate, parson, holder of Church office" (12c.), from Medieval Latin persona "parson" (see person). The reason for the ecclesiastical use is obscure; it might refer to the "person" legally holding church property, or it may be an abbreviation of persona ecclesiae "person of the church." The shift to a spelling with -a- begins late 13c. in surnames. Related: Parsonic. Parson's nose "the rump of a fowl" is attested by 1834.