The mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS) has historically been categorized into monocytes, dendritic cells and macrophages on the basis of functional and phenotypical characteristics. However, considering that these characteristics are often overlapping, the distinction between and classification of these cell types has been challenging. In this Opinion article, we propose a unified nomenclature for the MPS. We suggest that these cells can be classified primarily by their ontogeny and secondarily by their location, function and phenotype. We believe that this system permits a more robust classification during both steady-state and inflammatory conditions, with the benefit of spanning different tissues and across species.