The word 'kontakion' derives from the Greek κόνταξ (kontax), which means 'rod' or 'stick' and refers specifically to the pole around which a
scroll is wound.
 The term describes the way in which the words on a scroll unfurl as it is read. The word was originally used to describe an early
poetic form, whose origins date back certainly as far as the sixth century CE, and possibly earlier. Nevertheless, the term itself is of ninth-century origin.
There is also a chant book named after the hymn genre kontakion, the kontakarion (
Greek: κοντακάριον) or kondakar (
Old Church Slavonic: Кондакар). The kontakarion is not just a collection of kontakia: within the tradition of the Cathedral Rite (like the rite practiced at the
Hagia Sophia of
Constantinople) it became the name of the book of the prechanter or
lampadarios, also now as "psaltikon", which contained all the soloistic parts of hymns sung during the morning service and the Divine Liturgy. Because the kontakia were usually sung by protopsaltes during the morning services, the first part for the morning service with its
prokeimena and kontakia was the most voluminous part, so it was simply called kontakarion.