[cheef-tuh n, -tin]


the chief of a clan or a tribe.
a leader of a group, band, etc.: the robbers' chieftain.
(initial capital letter) Military. Britain's main battle tank since 1969, fitted with a 120mm gun and two machine guns and weighing 55 tons (50 metric tons).

Origin of chieftain

1275–1325; Middle English cheftayne, variant of chevetaine < Old French < Late Latin capitāneus captain
Related formschief·tain·cy, chief·tain·ship, noun Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for chieftain

bigwig, boss, head, ruler, leader, director, master, captain, headman

Examples from the Web for chieftain

Contemporary Examples of chieftain

  • This was not quite how things appeared to the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus before he fought the invading Roman army in AD 83.

    The Daily Beast logo
    War! What Is It Good For? A Lot

    Nick Romeo

    August 13, 2014

Historical Examples of chieftain

  • He was the chieftain of a clan that spread over Down and Antrim.

    The Foolish Lovers

    St. John G. Ervine

  • The next moment the chieftain entered and glared fiercely at Siegmund.

  • For this are you ill, in order to punish your father, because our chieftain the axe is angry.

    Aino Folk-Tales

    Basil Hall Chamberlain

  • But there was something of the chieftain, something of the prophet, about him.

    The Great Hunger

    Johan Bojer

  • He is described as a chieftain standing in a chariot drawn by two horses.

    History of Religion

    Allan Menzies

British Dictionary definitions for chieftain



the head or leader of a tribe or clan
the chief of a group of people
Derived Formschieftaincy or chieftainship, noun

Word Origin for chieftain

C14: from Old French chevetaine, from Late Latin capitāneus commander; see captain
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for chieftain

early 14c., cheftayne "ruler, chief, head" of something, from Anglo-French chiefteyn, Old French chevetain "captain, chief, leader," from Late Latin capitaneus "commander," from Latin capitis, genitive of caput "head" (see capitulum). According to "Rob Roy" (1818) a Highland chieftain was the head of a branch of a clan, a chief was the head of the whole name. Related: Chieftainship.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper