ABSTRACT In each generation, the germline is tasked with producing somatic lineages that form the body, and segregating a population of cells for gametogenesis. During animal development, when do cells of the germline irreversibly commit to producing gametes? Integrating findings from diverse species, we conclude that the final commitment of the germline to gametogenesis – the process of germ cell determination – occurs after primordial germ cells (PGCs) colonize the gonads. Combining this understanding with medical findings, we present a model whereby germ cell tumors arise from cells that failed to undertake germ cell determination, regardless of their having colonized the gonads. We propose that the diversity of cell types present in these tumors reflects the broad developmental potential of migratory PGCs.