Sultan (Arabic: سلطان Sulṭān, ) is a noble title with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic language abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership" and "dictatorship", derived from the masdar سلطة sulṭah, meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms (i.e., the lack of dependence on any higher ruler), without claiming the overall caliphate, or to refer to a powerful governor of a province within the caliphate.
The dynasty and lands ruled by a sultan are referred to as a sultanate (Arabic: سلطنة).
A feminine form, used by Westerners, is sultana or sultanah; though the very styling misconstrues the roles of wives of sultans. In a similar usage, the wife of a German Field-Marshal might be styled Feldmarschallin (in French, similar constructions of the type madame la maréchale are quite common). The rare female leaders in Muslim history are correctly known as "sultanas". However, in the Sultanate of Sulu, the wife of the sultan is styled as the "panguian".
Among those modern hereditary rulers who wish to emphasize their secular authority under the rule of law, the term is gradually being replaced by king (i.e., malik in Arabic).