late 13c. (early 13c. as a surname), "large cat of the wooded country of Africa and South Asia," from Old French lebard, leupart "leopard," heraldic or real (12c., Modern French léopard), from Late Latin leopardus, literally "lion-pard, lion-panther" (the animal was thought in ancient times to be a hybrid of these two species), from Greek leopardos, from leon "lion" (see lion) + pardos "male panther," which generally is said to be connected to Sanskrit prdakuh "panther, tiger."
Largest spotted cat of the Old World, the name later also was applied to big cats in the Americas. The word is widespread in Europe: Dutch luipaard, German, Danish leopard, Spanish, Italian leopardo. Middle English spelling variants included lubard, lebarde, lypard, lyepart. Proverbial references to its inability to change its spots are from Jeremiah xiii.23. In Middle English the word is used often in heraldry, but there it refers to a lion passant gardant (as on the emblem of Edward the Black Prince).