Described by Swainson in 1837 as Prionites bahamensis; the type locality was given as Bahama Islands, but this was an error, and type locality was revised to Trinidad.
This taxon was classified as a separate species by most early authorities (e.g. Cory 1918, Chapman 1923), until Peters (1945) included it within a broadly defined, polytypic Momotus momota; as recognized by Peters, Momotus momota also included the taxa currently assigned to Momotus coeruleiceps (Blue-crowned Motmot), Momotus subrufescens (Whooping Motmot), Momotus momota (Amazonian Motmot), and Momotus aequatorialis (Andean Motmot). The Peters concept of a broadly defined species, with a geographic range extending from Mexico south to southern Brazil, was widely followed for many years. Snow (2001) suggested that bahamensis might merit species rank, but did not elaborate.
Stiles (2009) conducted a review of morphological and vocal characters of most members of the Momotus momota complex. He identified four discrete groups, corresponding to Momotus coeruleiceps, Momotus subrufescens, Momotus momota, and Momotus aequatorialis, each of which in his view easily merited species rank. In many respects, including vocalizations, bahamensis is closest to subrufescens. Within the subrufescens group, however, bahamensis is the most distinct in terms of plumage characters, and therefore Stiles (2009) recommended that bahamensis also be recognized as a species.