"fabulous sea-creature, man above and fish below," c. 1600, literally "man of the sea," from first element in mermaid (q.v.) + man (n.). The gender-neutral merpeople (1849 "Kit Bam's Adventures") and merfolk (1846) "inhabitants of the sea with human bodies and fish-like tails" seem to be more recent formations.
Entries linking to merman
"fabled marine or amphibian creature having the upper body in the form of a woman and the lower in the form of a fish, with human attributes," "usually working harm, with or without malignant intent, to mortals with whom she might be thrown into relation" [Century Dictionary]; mid-14c., meremayde, literally "maid of the sea," from Middle English mere "sea, lake" (see mere (n.1)) + maid.
Old English had equivalent merewif "water-witch" (see wife), meremenn "mermaid, siren" (compare Middle Dutch meer-minne, Old High German meri-min), which became Middle English mere-min (c. 1200) and was shortened to mere "siren, mermaid" (early 13c.); the later mermaid might be a re-expansion of this. Tail-less in northern Europe; the fishy form is a medieval influence from the classical siren, and mermaids sometimes were said to lure sailors to destruction with song.
A favorite sign of taverns and inns at least since early 15c. (in reference to the inn on Bread Street, Cheapside, London). Mermaid pie (1660s) was "a sucking pig baked whole in a crust." Mermaid's purse for "egg-case of a skate, ray, or shark" is by 1825, perhaps originally Scottish, as it is first attested in Jamieson.
"a featherless plantigrade biped mammal of the genus Homo" [Century Dictionary], Old English man, mann "human being, person (male or female); brave man, hero;" also "servant, vassal, adult male considered as under the control of another person," from Proto-Germanic *mann- (source also of Old Saxon, Swedish, Dutch, Old High German man, Old Frisian mon, German Mann, Old Norse maðr, Danish mand, Gothic manna "man"), from PIE root *man- (1) "man." For the plural, see men.
Sometimes connected to root *men- (1) "to think," which would make the ground sense of man "one who has intelligence," but not all linguists accept this. Liberman, for instance, writes, "Most probably man 'human being' is a secularized divine name" from Mannus [Tacitus, "Germania," chap. 2], "believed to be the progenitor of the human race."
Specific sense of "adult male of the human race" (distinguished from a woman or boy) is by late Old English (c. 1000); Old English used wer and wif to distinguish the sexes, but wer began to disappear late 13c. and was replaced by man. Universal sense of the word remains in mankind and manslaughter. Similarly, Latin had homo "human being" and vir "adult male human being," but they merged in Vulgar Latin, with homo extended to both senses. A like evolution took place in Slavic languages, and in some of them the word has narrowed to mean "husband." PIE had two other "man" roots: *uiHro "freeman" (source of Sanskrit vira-, Lithuanian vyras, Latin vir, Old Irish fer, Gothic wair; see *wi-ro-) and *hner "man," a title more of honor than *uiHro (source of Sanskrit nar-, Armenian ayr, Welsh ner, Greek anēr; see *ner- (2)).
Man also was in Old English as an indefinite pronoun, "one, people, they." It was used generically for "the human race, mankind" by c. 1200. As a word of familiar address, originally often implying impatience, c.1400; hence probably its use as an interjection of surprise or emphasis, since Middle English but especially popular from early 20c.
As "a woman's lover," by mid-14c. As "adult male possessing manly qualities in an eminent degree," from 14c. Man's man, one whose qualities are appreciated by other men, is by 1873. Colloquial use of the Man for "the boss" is by 1918. To be man or mouse "be brave or be timid" is from 1540s. Meaning "piece with which a game (especially chess) is played" is from c. 1400.
Man-about-town "man of the leisure class who frequents clubs, theaters, and other social resorts" is from 1734. Man of the world is from mid-14c. as "secular man, layman;" by early 15c. as "man experienced in the ways of the world, one able to take things in stride." To do something as one man "unanimously" is from late 14c.
So I am as he that seythe, 'Come hyddr John, my man.' 
MANTRAP, a woman's commodity. [Grose, "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," London, 1785]
At the kinges court, my brother, Ech man for himself. [Chaucer, "Knight's Tale," c. 1386]
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "body of water."
It forms all or part of: aquamarine; Armorica; beche-de-mer; cormorant; mare (n.2) "broad, dark areas of the moon;" marina; marinate; marine; mariner; maritime; marsh; mere (n.1) "lake, pool;" Merlin; mermaid; merman; meerschaum; meerkat; morass; Muriel; rosemary; submarine; ultramarine; Weimar.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Latin mare; Old Church Slavonic morje, Russian more, Lithuanian marės, Old Irish muir, Welsh mor "sea;" Old English mere "sea, ocean; lake, pool," German Meer "sea."
updated on January 01, 2019