Panulirus interruptus is called the California spiny lobster by the Food and Agriculture Organization, but a number of other local, vernacular names exist, including California lobster, California marine crayfish, and red lobster in the United States, and langosta colorada and langosta roja in Mexico. The preferred common name of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is simply spiny lobster. John Witt Randall described the species in the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1840, based on material given to him by Thomas Nuttall. The exact locality is not known, being given only as "Upper California", but the most likely sources are the places where Nuttall was most active, namely Santa Barbara and San Diego. The specific epithet interruptus refers to the grooves on the abdominal tergites, which are interrupted in this species. Although originally placed in the genus Palinurus, the California spiny lobster was later transferred to Adam White's new genus Panulirus, together with other spiny lobsters that have long flagella on their first antennae.