This group likely originated in northern Central America, where the greatest number of species and diversity between them is found. From there, they spread north during the interglacial periods, mainly as migrants, returning to the ancestral region in winter. Two genera, Myioborus and Basileuterus, seem to have colonized South America early, perhaps before the two continents were linked, and together constitute most warbler species of that region.
The scientific name for the family, Parulidae, originates from the fact that Linnaeus in 1758 named the northern parula as a tit, Parus americanus, and as taxonomy developed, the genus name was modified first to Parulus and then to Parula. The family name derives from the name for the genus.