Ospreys have a variety of common names, including fish hawks, sea hawks, and eagle hawks. Their Spanish name (gavilán pescador or “fishing hawk”) and French name (balbusard pêcheur or “bald buzzard fisherman”) also make reference to their prowess as aerial anglers.

The osprey’s scientific name, Pandion haliaetus, comes from a mythical king of Athens, Pandion, whose daughters were turned into birds, and the Greek words halos (sea) and aetos (eagle).

The common English name is from the Old French "ospreit", which derives from the Latin "avis praedae" meaning "bird of prey." “Avis praedea” is a generic term for any raptor, and apparently became associated with ospreys in Old French based on the similarity of its sound to ossifrage (Latin "bone-breaker”), a very large Old World vulture that swallows and digests bones.