The domestic cat is a member of the cat family, the felids, which are a rapidly evolving family of mammals that share a common ancestor only 10–15 million years ago and include lions, tigers, cougars and many others. Within this family, domestic cats (Felis catus) are part of the genus Felis, which is a group of small cats containing about seven species (depending upon classification scheme). Members of the genus are found worldwide and include the jungle cat (Felis chaus) of southeast Asia, European wildcat (F. silvestris silvestris), African wildcat (F. s. lybica), the Chinese mountain cat (F. bieti), and the Arabian sand cat (F. margarita), among others.
The domestic cat is believed to have evolved from the Near Eastern wildcat, whose range covers vast portions of the Middle East westward to the Atlantic coast of Africa. Between 70,000 and 100,000 years ago the animal gave rise to the genetic lineage that eventually produced all domesticated cats, having diverged from the Near Eastern wildcat around 8,000 BC in the Middle East.
The domestic cat was first classified as Felis catus by Carl Linnaeus in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae published in 1758. Because of modern phylogenetics, domestic cats are usually regarded as another subspecies of the wildcat, F. silvestris. This has resulted in mixed usage of the terms, as the domestic cat can be called by its subspecies name, Felis silvestris catus. Wildcats have also been referred to as various subspecies of F. catus, but in 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature fixed the name for wildcats as F. silvestris. The most common name in use for the domestic cat remains F. catus. Sometimes, the domestic cat has been called Felis domesticus as proposed by German naturalist J. C. P. Erxleben in 1777, but these are not valid taxonomic names and have been used only rarely in scientific literature. A population of Transcaucasian black feral cats was once classified as Felis daemon (Satunin 1904) but now this population is considered to be a part of the domestic cat.