early 14c., cheftayne "ruler, chief, head" of something, from Anglo-French chiefteyn, Old French chevetain "captain, chief, leader," from Late Latin capitaneus "commander," from Latin capitis, genitive of caput "head" (from PIE root *kaput- "head"). Now mostly poetic or archaic; in "Rob Roy" (1818) a Highland chieftain was the head of a branch of a clan, a chief was the head of the whole name. Related: Chieftainship; chieftaincy.
updated on November 09, 2017
Dictionary entries near chieftain