masc. proper name, 12c., from Old English Petrus (genitive Pet(e)res, dative Pet(e)re), from Latin Petrus, from Greek Petros, literally "stone, rock" (see petrous), a translation of Syriac kefa "stone" (Latinized as Cephas), the nickname Jesus gave to apostle Simon Bar-Jona (Matthew xvi.17), historically known as St. Peter, and consequently a popular name among Christians (Italian Pietro, Spanish and Portuguese Pedro, Old French Pierres, French Pierre, etc.). As slang for "penis," attested from 1902, probably from identity of first syllable.
The common form of this very common name in medieval England was Peres (Anglo-French Piers), hence surnames Pierce, Pearson, etc. Among the diminutive forms were Parkin and Perkin.
To rob Peter to pay Paul (1510s, attested in slightly different wordings from late 14c.) might be a reference to the many churches dedicated to those two saints, and have sprung from the fairly common practice of building or enriching one church with the ruins or revenues of another. But the alliterative pairing of the two names is attested from c. 1400 with no obvious connection to the saints:
Sum medicyne is for peter þat is not good for poul, for þe diuersite of complexioun. [Lanfranc's "Chirurgia Magna," English translation, c. 1400]
"to diminish gradually and then cease," 1812, colloquial, of uncertain origin. To peter out "become exhausted," is 1846 as miners' slang. Related: Petered; petering.
Modern French form of the masc. proper name represented in Modern English by Peter (q.v.). The city in South Dakota, U.S., was named for Pierre Chouteau (1789-1865) who set up an Indian trading post there in 1837.
familiar form of masc. proper name Peter. For Pete's sake is attested from 1903 in a list of children's expressions published in Massachusetts, probably a euphemistic use of the disciple's name in place of Christ; as an exclamation or quasi-oath, Peter! was in use 14c., but this likely is not the source of the modern use.
a nautical term for a blue flag having a white square in the center, hoisted at the fore royal masthead as a signal to report on board as the vessel is about to go to sea, attested by c. 1800, from blue (adj.1), but the significance of peter is uncertain and disputed. Two common guesses are that it is an abbreviation of repeater or that it stands for French partir.
name of the boy-hero in J.M. Barrie's play "Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up" (1904), first introduced in Barrie's "The Little White Bird" (1902). Used allusively for an immature adult man from 1914 (by G.B. Shaw, in reference to the Kaiser).
Well, Peter Pan got out by the window, which had no bars. Standing on the ledge he could see trees far away, which were doubtless the Kensington Gardens, and the moment he saw them he entirely forgot that he was now a little boy in a nightgown, and away he flew, right over the houses to the Gardens. It is wonderful that he could fly without wings, but the place itched tremendously, and, perhaps we could all fly if we were as dead-confident-sure of our capacity to do it as was bold Peter Pan that evening. [Barrie, "The Little White Bird"]
1968, "in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence," named for (and by) Laurence Johnston Peter (1919-1990) Canadian-born U.S. educationalist and author, who described it in his book of the same name (1969).