late 14c., "identical in amount, extent, or portion;" early 15c., "even or smooth of surface," from Latin aequalis "uniform, identical, equal," from aequus "level, even, flat; as tall as, on a level with; friendly, kind, just, fair, equitable, impartial; proportionate; calm, tranquil," which is of unknown origin. Parallel formation egal (from Old French egal) was in use late 14c.-17c. Equal rights is from 1752; by 1854 in American English in reference to men and women. Equal opportunity (adj.) in terms of hiring, etc. is recorded by 1925.
1580s, "compare, liken, consider as equal" (obsolete), also "match, rival, become equal to," from equal (adj.). Related: Equaled; equaling.