c. 1300, "shield," diminutive of late Old English targe, from Old French targe "light shield" (12c.), from Frankish *targa "shield," from Proto-Germanic *targ- (source also of Old High German zarga "edging, border," German zarge "border, edge, frame," Old English targe, Old Norse targa "shield, buckler"), perhaps originally "edge of a shield." Meaning "round object to be aimed at in shooting" first recorded 1757, originally in archery, perhaps suggested by the concentric circles in both. Target-practice is from 1801. Target audience is by 1951; early reference is to Cold War psychological warfare.
"to use as a target," 1837, from target (n.). Earlier it meant "to shield" (1610s). Related: Targeted; targeting.