The zebra finch was first collected in 1801 during Nicolas Baudin's expedition to Australia. It was described in 1817 by Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in his Nouveau Dictionnaire d'Histoire Naturelle, where he gave it the scientific name Fringilla guttata. The Australian subspecies was then described in 1837 by John Gould as Amadina castanotis. Its current genus, Taeniopygia, was described in 1862 by Ludwig Reichenbach. It is placed in the tribe Poephilini, along with the genus Poephila, which it was previously included in; the split between Taeniopygia and Poephila is justified by 1987 study using protein electrophoresis and chromosomal banding.