Contrary to common belief and past classification, the tamaraw is not a subspecies of the local carabao, which is only slightly larger, or the common water buffalo. In contrast to the carabao, it has a number of distinguishing characteristics: it is slightly hairier, has light markings on its face, is not gregarious, and has shorter horns that are somewhat V-shaped. It is the largest native terrestrial mammal in the country. The tamaraw was originally described as Anoa mindorensis by the French zoologist Pierre Marie Heude in 1888. In 1958, it was described as Anoa bubalis mindorensis, a subspecies of the then-water buffalo species (Anoa bubalis). A little over a decade after, the tamaraw was elevated to species status as Anoa mindorensis in 1969.
Later research and analyses of relationships determined the genus Anoa to be a part of the genus Bubalus. The tamaraw’s scientific name was updated into its present form, Bubalus mindorensis (sometimes referred to as Bubalus (Bubalus) mindorensis).The name tamaraw has other variants like tamarau, tamarou and tamarao. It has been suggested that the term tamaraw came from tamadaw which is a probable alternative name for the Banteng (Bos javanicus).