In Middle English, the word pelican could also be spelled pellican and pellicane, and in Old English, it was pellicane. That was borrowed from Late Latin pellicanus, which traces to Ancient Greek pelekan. Here it gets interesting. Pelekan is widely believed to be related to the words pelekus, which meant "hatchet", and pelekas, which meant "woodpecker". The connection between the bird and the ax apparently lies in the shape of the bill, which is also how the woodpecker fits in. Beyond that, it's hard to pinpoint an exact origin because the word for hatchet did a lot of traveling. It shows up in Sanskrit as parasu, in Ossetian as færæt, and maybe even shares a root with Akkadian pilakku and Sumerian balag. Most likely, it's Semitic in origin, although with the amount of contamination present we can never be exactly sure.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.