The name "Uralic" derives from the fact that the areas where the languages are spoken are found on both sides of the Ural Mountains. Also, the original homeland (Urheimat) is commonly hypothesized to be in the vicinity of the Urals.
Finno-Ugric is sometimes used as a synonym for Uralic, though Finno-Ugric is widely understood to exclude the Samoyedic languages. Scholars who do not accept the traditional notion that Samoyedic split first from the rest of the Uralic family may treat the terms as synonymous.
In recent times, linguists often place the Urheimat (original homeland) of the Proto-Uralic language in the vicinity of the Volga River, west of the Urals, close to the Urheimat of the Indo-European languages, or to the east and southeast of the Urals. Historian Gyula László places its origin in the forest zone between the Oka River and central Poland. E. N. Setälä and M. Zsirai place it between the Volga and Kama Rivers. According to E. Itkonen, the ancestral area extended to the Baltic Sea. P. Hajdu has suggested a homeland in western and northwestern Siberia.
The first plausible mention of a Uralic people is in Tacitus's Germania (c. 98 AD), mentioning the Fenni (usually interpreted as referring to the Sami) and two other possibly Uralic tribes living in the farthest reaches of Scandinavia. There are many possible earlier mentions, including the Iyrcae (perhaps related to Yugra) described by Herodotus living in what is now European Russia, and the Budini, described by Herodotus as notably red-haired (a characteristic feature of the Udmurts) and living in northeast Ukraine and/or adjacent parts of Russia. In the late 15th century, European scholars noted the resemblance of the names Hungaria and Yugria, the names of settlements east of the Ural. They assumed a connection but did not seek linguistic evidence.
The affinity of Hungarian and Finnish was first proposed in the late 17th century. Two of the more important contributors were the German scholar Martin Vogel, who established several grammatical and lexical parallels between Finnish and Hungarian, and the Swedish scholar Georg Stiernhielm, who commented on the similarities of Sami, Estonian and Finnish, and also on a few similar words between Finnish and Hungarian. These two authors were the first to outline what was to become the classification of the Finno-Ugric, and later Uralic family. This proposal received some of its initial impetus from the fact that these languages, unlike most of the other languages spoken in Europe, are not part of what is now known as the Indo-European family.