Often the apostles are referred to as "the twelve apostles" - the twelve disciples called by name by Jesus. But Paul called himself and Barnabus apostles. Were Paul and Barnabus really apostles?
Apostle does come from the Greek word
In the Gospels, the Twelve are most commonly referred to as disciples. They were following the Teacher, learning from Him as His students.
In John 17:18 and Matthew 28:18-20, among other verses, Jesus specifically sends them out and commissions them with the Great Commission.
So, those who were once followers of Jesus became those who were no longer bid to come and follow, but also to go out and proclaim a message.
Even in Matthew 4:19, the pattern for this was established. Jesus said, "Come follow me [be disciples], and I will make you fishers of men [apostles].
This is also the call of everyone who comes to Jesus. We must first and foremost follow Him, but we are also sent out with the Great Commission. Every disciple is called to be an apostle - a sent one.
Specifically, the word Apostle comes from the greek word 'apostolos' which literally means messenger, envoy, or one sent. Apostle essentially means "teacher" as opposed to disciple which means "student".
Specifically in Christianity the Apostles were the 11 disciples who went on to spread the Gospel of Christ after His death and resurrection. Paul and some other 1st generation Christians are included in this term. For most Protestants using the word Apostle as a title only applies to those first generation leaders, although some denominations and schools of theological thought may differ.
I can not speak authoritatively to the use of the word in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
The word apostle is a straight transliteration of the Greek apostolos, literally meaning "one who is sent forth." It implies an ambassador or messenger bearing an official message by the authority of someone more powerful than himself. Jesus called twelve Apostles to be his special messengers to all the world.
As we know, Judas, one of the twelve, betrayed him and committed suicide soon after. Matthias was called to replace Judas, which made it clear that the intention was to continue as twelve apostles, replacing the original members as they died. While the Bible doesn't record exactly when or under what circumstances Paul and Barnabas were called as apostles, we do know that there was a lot of persecution of Christians in general and Christian leaders in particular going on at the time. It's reasonable to suppose that they were called as replacements for others of the original twelve.