There are three commonly given explanations for the origin of the word condom.
Although none of them have any significant supporting evidence and all three must be classified as mere speculation:
It is named after the village of Condom in southern France. This hypothesis was first proposed in 1904. Other than the similarity in form and the general English association with all things erotic to France, there is nothing to suggest that this is in fact the origin.
It is from the Latin condus, meaning that which preserves, a reference to the device’s original use for preventing syphilis.
It is from the Persian kondü or kendü, an earthen vessel for storing grain. This is a reference to the sheath’s function as a receptacle for semen. It supposedly made its way into English via Greek and Latin.
However, there is a more common, but likely false, tale about condom’s origin. Legend has it that the condom was named for its inventor, a British physician who lived during the reign of Charles II (1660-85). There is no evidence that such a Dr. Condom existed, but that has not stopped the spread of the legend.
The hunt is made difficult by the early variations in spelling (quondam, condon, etc.) and the fact that respectable dictionaries did not include such words until very recently. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, did not include condom until its 1972 supplement even though there is an 1888 letter to James Murray, that venerable dictionary’s most famous editor, containing the earliest known citation of the term’s use.
This first known use of the term is in a 1705 letter referring to John Campbell, the 2nd Duke of Argyll, who traveled from London to Edinburgh bringing with him a:
Certaine instrument called a Quondam, qch. occasioned ye debauching of a great number of Ladies of qualitie, and oyr young gentlewomen.
“Qunondam” is totally “condom” in the phonetic sense, but does this really count? William E. Kruck seems to think so in his book “Looking For Docotor Condom” which inspired this article. I recommend checking it out, but it won’t make this mystery any clearer. Will the real condom namer please stand up?