mid-14c., camelion, from Old French caméléon, from Latin chamaeleon, from Greek khamaileon "the chameleon," from khamai "on the ground" (also "dwarf"), akin to chthon "earth" (see chthonic) + leon "lion" (see lion). Perhaps the large head-crest on some species was thought to resemble a lion's mane. The classical -h- was restored in English early 18c. Figurative sense of "variable person" is 1580s. It formerly was supposed to live on air (cf. "Hamlet" III.ii.98).
a species of lizard which has the faculty of changing the colour of its skin. It is ranked among the unclean animals in Lev. 11:30, where the Hebrew word so translated is _coah_ (R.V., "land crocodile"). In the same verse the Hebrew _tanshemeth_, rendered in Authorized Version "mole," is in Revised Version "chameleon," which is the correct rendering. This animal is very common in Egypt and in the Holy Land, especially in the Jordan valley.