The word liberal, like liberty, derives from the Latin liber ("free"). In religion and politics, to be liberal is to be tolerant or open-minded, to favour freedom over control. In other words, a liberal is someone who adheres to the ideology of liberalism.
In the United States, liberal is sometimes used as an antonym for Conservative or a synonym for left-wing. There, it primarily refers to the New Deal variant of liberalism, emphasizing the positive role of the state. In most other countries, liberal may have quite an opposite meaning: for instance, in France a liberal is a right-wing or libertarian proponent of free markets.
Worldwide, there are many political parties that go by the name Liberal Party, but their ideological positions vary widely. For example, Australia's Liberal Party is generally characterized as following a conservative ideology, rather than a liberal one; the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan is also considered a right-wing party despite its name.