There are reports the Emu was first sighted by European explorers in 1696 when they made a brief visit to the coast of Western Australia. It was thought to have been spotted on the east coast of Australia before 1788 when the first European settlement occurred. It was first described under the name of the New Holland Cassowary in Arthur Phillip's Voyage to Botany Bay, published in 1789. The species was named by ornithologist John Latham on a specimen from the Sydney, Australia area, which was referred to as New Holland at the time. He collaborated on Phillip's book and provided the first descriptions of and names for many Australian bird species; its name is Latin for "fast-footed New Hollander". The etymology of the common name Emu is uncertain, but is thought to have come from an Arabic word for large bird that was later used by Portuguese explorers to describe the related Cassowary in Australia and New Guinea. Another theory is that it comes from the word "ema", which is used in Portuguese to denote a large bird akin to an ostrich or crane. In Victoria, some terms for the Emu were Barrimal in the Dja Dja Wurrung language, myoure in Gunai, and courn in Jardwadjali. It was known as murawung or birabayin to the local Eora and Darug inhabitants of the Sydney basin.
In his original 1816 description of the Emu, Vieillot used two generic names; first Dromiceius, then Dromaius a few pages later. It has been a point of contention ever since which is correct; the latter is more correctly formed, but the convention in taxonomy is that the first name given stands, unless it is clearly a typographical error. Most modern publications, including those of the Australian government, use Dromaius, with Dromiceius mentioned as an alternative spelling.