Evolutionary neurobiologists want to know how neuronal properties (or traits) have been modified to subserve adaptive changes in behavioral phenotypes. Homology can provide a conceptual framework to distinguish the separate contributions of phylogenetic factors and current adaptive modifications to extant traits and behaviors. In this essay, a suite of nine vocal/sonic motor traits are compared in two orders of teleost fishes, the Batrachoidiformes and Scorpaeniformes. Only three of the traits are modified among Scorpaeniformes, the more advanced group. The large number of conserved characters among the study species suggests their sonic motor systems are homologs. This conclusion is consistent with the known phylogeny of teleosts and further implies that homologous sonic motor traits are more extensively modified among more recently evolved members (in this case the Scorpaeniformes) of the teleostean lineage. Since homology implies a common ontogenetic history for any trait, modifications thereof can potentially be linked to changes in identifiable developmental events, which themselves are homologs. Several hypotheses are proposed to account for the origins of modified sonic traits. The further demonstration that modified traits of the sonic motor system are in fact adaptations sets the stage for behavioral ecological studies that attempt to understand why the modified traits underlie behavioral changes that increase an individual's fitness.