early 15c., "member of the ancient Roman noble order," from M.Fr. patricien, from L. patricius "of the rank of the nobles, of the senators," from patres conscripti "Roman senators," lit. "fathers," pl. of pater "father." Contrasted, in ancient Rome, with plebeius. Applied to noble citizens and higher orders of free folk in medieval It. and Ger. cities (sense attested in English from 1610s); hence "nobleman, aristocrat" in a modern sense (1630s). As an adjective, attested from 1610s, from the noun.