The dynasty is named after a castle, which in turn is named after a mountain. The names used by scholars today, however, are conventional and somewhat anachronistic.
The name Hohenstaufen was first used in the 14th century to distinguish the "high" (hohen) conical hill named Staufen in the Swabian Jura, in the district of Göppingen, from the village of the same name in the valley below. The new name was only applied to the hill castle of Staufen by historians in the 19th century, to distinguish it from other castles of the same name. The name of the dynasty followed, but in recent decades the trend in German historiography has been to prefer the name Staufer, which is closer to contemporary usage.
The name "Staufen" itself derives from Stauf (OHG stouf, akin to Early Modern English stoup), meaning "chalice". This term was commonly applied to conical hills in Swabia in the Middle Ages. It is a contemporary term for both the hill and the castle, although its spelling in the Latin documents of the time varies considerably: Sthouf, Stophe, Stophen, Stoyphe, Estufin etc. The castle was built or at least acquired by Duke Frederick I of Swabia in the latter half of the 11th century.
Members of the family occasionally used the toponymic surname de Stauf or variants thereof. Only in the 13th century does the name come to be applied to the family as a whole. Around 1215 a chronicler referred to the "emperors of Stauf". In 1247, the Emperor Frederick II himself referred to his family as the domus Stoffensis (Staufer house), but this was an isolated instance. Otto of Freising (d. 1158) associated the Staufer with the town of Waiblingen and around 1230 Burchard of Ursberg referred to the Staufer as of the "royal lineage of the Waiblingens" (regia stirps Waiblingensium). The exact connection between the family and Waiblingen is not clear, but as a name for the family it became very popular. The pro-imperial Ghibelline faction of the Italian civic rivalries of the 13th and 14th centuries took its name from Waiblingen.
In Italian historiography, the Staufer are known as the Svevi (Swabians).