late 14c., from Old French reguler "ecclesiastical" (Modern French régulier), from Late Latin regularis "containing rules for guidance," from Latin regula "rule, straight piece of wood," from PIE root *reg- "move in a straight line."
Earliest sense was of religious orders (the opposite of secular). Extended from late 16c. to shapes, etc., that followed predictable or uniform patterns; sense of "normal" is from 1630s; meaning "real, genuine" is from 1821. Old English borrowed Latin regula and nativized it as regol "rule, regulation, canon, law, standard, pattern;" hence regolsticca "ruler" (instrument); regollic (adj.) "canonical, regular."