The trigeminal, the fifth cranial nerve of vertebrates, represents the rostralmost component of the nerves assigned to pharyngeal arches. It consists of the ophthalmic and maxillomandibular nerves, and in jawed vertebrates, the latter is further divided into two major branches dorsoventrally. Of these, the dorsal one is called the maxillary nerve because it predominantly innervates the upper jaw, as seen in the human anatomy. However, developmentally, the upper jaw is derived not only from the dorsal part of the mandibular arch, but also from the premandibular primordium: the medial nasal prominence rostral to the mandibular arch domain. The latter component forms the premaxillary region of the upper jaw in mammals. Thus, there is an apparent discrepancy between the morphological trigeminal innervation pattern and the developmental derivation of the gnathostome upper jaw. To reconcile this, we compared the embryonic developmental patterns of the trigeminal nerve in a variety of gnathostome species. With the exception of the diapsid species studied, we found that the maxillary nerve issues a branch (nasopalatine nerve in human) that innervates the medial nasal prominence derivatives. Because the trigeminal nerve in cyclostomes also possesses a similar branch, we conclude that the vertebrate maxillomandibular nerve primarily has had a premandibular branch as its dorsal element. The presence of this branch would thus represent the plesiomorphic condition for the gnathostomes, implying its secondary loss within some lineages. The branch for the maxillary process, more appropriately called the palatoquadrate component of the maxillary nerve (V2), represents the apomorphic gnathostome trait that has evolved in association with the acquisition of an upper jaw. J. Morphol. 275:17–38, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.