The western jackdaw was one of the many species originally described by Carl Linnaeus in his 18th century work Systema Naturae. Owing to its supposed fondness for picking up coins, Linnaeus gave it the binomial name Corvus monedula, choosing the specific name mǒnēdŭla, which is derived from moneta, the Latin stem of the word "money". The genus Coloeus, from the Ancient Greek κολοιός (koloios) for jackdaw, was created byPeter Pallas in 1766, though most subsequent works have retained the two jackdaw species in Corvus.
The original Old English word cēo (pronounced with initial ch) gave modern English "chough"; Chaucer sometimes used this word to refer to the western jackdaw, as did Shakespeare in Hamlet although there has been debate about which species he was referring to. This onomatopoeicname, based on the western jackdaw's call, now refers to corvids of the genus Pyrrhocorax; the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), formerly particularly common in Cornwall, became known initially as the "Cornish chough" and then just the "chough", the name transferring from one species to the other.
The common name jackdaw first appeared in the 16th century, and is thought to be a compound of the forename Jack, used in animal names to signify a small form (e.g. jack snipe), and the archaic native English word daw. Formerly, western jackdaws were simply called "daws". The metallic chyak call may be the origin of the jack part of the common name, but this is not supported by theOxford English Dictionary. Daw, first used for the bird in the 15th century, is held by the Oxford English Dictionary to be derived from the postulated Old English dawe, citing the cognates in Old High German tāha, Middle High German tāhe or tāchele, and modern German Dahle or Dohle, and dialectal Tach, Dähi, Däche and Dacha.
Names in English dialects are numerous. Scottish and north English dialects have included ka or kae since the 14th century. The Midlands form of this word was co or coo. Caddow is potentially a compound of ka and dow, a variant of daw. Other dialectal or obsolete names include caddesse, cawdaw, caddy, chauk, college-bird, jackerdaw, jacko, ka-wattie, chimney-sweep bird (from their nesting propensities), and sea-crow (from the frequency with which they are found on coasts). It was also frequently known quasi-nominally as Jack.