The term began appearing around the time of the organization of professional armies in the 1600s. At first it was added as an adjective to existing names of ranks, yielding "Captain-General", "Lieutenant-General" and the like, used to distinguish the ruler's most important officers and usually made up as needed for individuals, often involving a certain amount of negotiation over precedence. Later, as part of further professionalization efforts, some of the terms, such as "Major-General" (originally "Sergeant-Major-General"), were assigned to specific ranks.
In the United States Armed Forces, "General" may mean either any rank of general officer, or the highest regular rank, which is usually referred to as full general, or four-star general, if necessary to identify it specifically. The different ranks of general are identified by the number of stars worn; a General of the Army wears five stars, a General four stars, a Lieutenant General three stars, a Major General two stars, and a Brigadier General one star.