Six princes of the Holy Roman Empire and rulers of fourteen Imperial Free Cities, who issued a protest (or dissent) against the edict of the Diet of Speyer (1529), were the first individuals to be called Protestants. The edict reversed concessions made to the Lutherans with the approval of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V three years earlier. The term protestant, though initially purely political in nature, later acquired a broader sense, referring to a member of any Western church which subscribed to the main Protestant principles. However, it is often misused to mean any church outside the Roman and Eastern Orthodox communions. Protestantism as a general term is now used in contradistinction to the other major Christian traditions, i.e. Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy.
During the Reformation, the term protestant was hardly used outside of German politics. People who were involved in the religious movement used the word evangelical (German: evangelisch). For further details, see the section below. Gradually, protestant became a general term, meaning any adherent of the Reformation in the German-speaking area. It was ultimately somewhat taken up by Lutherans, even though Martin Luther himself insisted on Christian or evangelical as the only acceptable names for individuals who professed Christ. French and Swiss Protestants instead preferred the word reformed (French: réformé), which became a popular, neutral, and alternative name for Calvinists.
The word evangelical (German: evangelisch), which refers to the gospel, was widely used for those involved in the religious movement in the German-speaking area beginning in 1517. Nowadays, evangelical is still preferred among some of the historical Protestant denominations in the Lutheran, Calvinist, and United Protestant (Lutheran & Reformed) traditions in Europe, and those with strong ties to them (e.g. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). Above all the term is used by Protestant bodies in the German-speaking area, such as the Evangelical Church in Germany. In continental Europe, an Evangelical is either a Lutheran, a Calvinist, or a United Protestant (Lutheran & Reformed). The German word evangelisch means Protestant, and is different from the German evangelikal, which refers to churches shaped by Evangelicalism. The English word evangelical usually refers to evangelical Protestant churches, and therefore to a certain part of Protestantism rather than to Protestantism as a whole. The English word traces its roots back to the Puritans in England, where Evangelicalism originated, and then was brought to the United States.
Martin Luther always disliked the term Lutheran, preferring the term evangelical, which was derived from euangelion, a Greek word meaning "good news", i.e. "gospel". The followers of John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and other theologians linked to the Reformed tradition also began to use that term. To distinguish the two evangelical groups, others began to refer to the two groups as Evangelical Lutheran and Evangelical Reformed. Nowadays, the word also pertains in the same way to some other mainline groups, for example Evangelical Methodist. As time passed by, the word evangelical was dropped. Lutherans themselves began to use the term Lutheran in the middle of the 16th century, in order to distinguish themselves from other groups such as the Philippists and Calvinists.
The German word reformatorisch, which roughly translates to English as "reformational" or "reforming", is used as an alternative for evangelisch in German, and is different from English reformed (German: reformiert), which refers to churches shaped by ideas of John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and other Reformed theologians. Being derived from the word "Reformation", the term emerged around the same time as evangelical (1517) and protestant (1529).