The word elephant was borrowed in the 1340s from the French word olifant, which was taken from Latin elephantus, from Greek elephas. This did have a definition of "elephant", but it mostly referred to ivory, which traders were encountering on a much more frequent basis than the animals. Homer and other writers such as Pindar and Hesiod all used it in this latter sense. Beyond that, the word is thought to be non-Indo-European, maybe from a Phonecian or Berber word sounding like elu and meaning "elephant". Some accounts incorrectly rebracket elephant into a word ele (possibly meaning "arch") and the root phanein (meaning "to show", same as in sycophant or phantasm), but there is a plethora of evidence discrediting that theory, so give it no credence if you encounter it.
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.