1801, "pertaining to the brain," from French cérébral (16c.), from Latin cerebrum "the brain" (also "the understanding"), from PIE *keres-, from root *ker- (1) "horn; head."
Meaning "intellectual, clever" is from 1929. Cerebral palsy attested from 1824, originally a general term for cases of paralysis that seemed to be traceable to "a morbid state of the encephalon." Used from c. 1860 in a more specific sense based on the work of English surgeon Dr. William Little.