How did the system get put into place?
Some of the founders wanted direct elections, and some thought Congress should elect the president in order to temper the power of the majority. Anticipating Rube Goldberg, they came up with the Electoral College.
Why is it called the Electoral College?
The term for electors was taken from the German princes of the Holy Roman Empire who selected the emperor. (Explainer was assured this is not a joke.) College in this case means people coming together for a common purpose.
Explainer thanks Michael White of the Office of the Federal Register, Michael J. Glennon of the University of California at Davis School of Law and many Slate readers for their suggestions. For more, see this site.