The Eurasian golden oriole was described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae and given the binomial name Coracias oriolus. The Eurasian golden oriole and the Indian golden oriole were formerly considered as conspecific, but in 2005 they were treated as separate species by the ornithologists Pamela Rasmussen and John Anderton in the first edition of their Birds of South Asia. Support for this split was provided by a molecular phylogenetic study published in 2010, and most ornitholists now treat the Indian golden oriole as a separate species. Alternate names for the Eurasian golden oriole include the European golden oriole and western Eurasian golden oriole. The species is monotypic.
The name "oriole" was first used in the 18th century and is an adaptation of the scientific Latin genus name, which is derived from the Classical Latin "aureolus" meaning golden. Various forms of "oriole" have existed in Romance languages since the 12th and 13th centuries. Albertus Magnus used the Latin form oriolus in about 1250 and erroneously stated that it was onomatopoeic because of the golden oriole's song. In medieval England its name, derived from the song, was the woodwele.
The male is striking in the typical oriole black and yellow plumage, but the female is a drabber green bird. Orioles are shy, and even the male is remarkably difficult to see in the dappled yellow and green leaves of the canopy. In flight they look somewhat like a thrush, strong and direct with some shallow dips over longer distances. The New World orioles are similar in appearance to the Oriolidae, but are icterids and unrelated to the Old World birds.