late 14c. (early 13c. in Anglo-Latin), from Latin rector "ruler, governor, director, guide," from rect-, past participle stem of regere "to rule, guide" (from PIE root *reg- "move in a straight line," with derivatives meaning "to direct in a straight line," thus "to lead, rule"). Used originally of Roman governors and God, by 18c. generally restricted to clergymen and college heads. Related: Rectorship.