Many protein-coding genes identified by genome sequencing remain without functional annotation or biological context. Here we define a novel protein-coding gene, Nmf9, based on a forward genetic screen for neurological function. ENU-induced and genome-edited null mutations in mice produce deficits in vestibular function, fear learning and circadian behavior, which correlated with Nmf9 expression in inner ear, amygdala, and suprachiasmatic nuclei. Homologous genes from unicellular organisms and invertebrate animals predict interactions with small GTPases, but the corresponding domains are absent in mammalian Nmf9. Intriguingly, homozygotes for null mutations in the Drosophila homolog, CG45058, show profound locomotor defects and premature death, while heterozygotes show striking effects on sleep and activity phenotypes. These results link a novel gene orthology group to discrete neurological functions, and show conserved requirement across wide phylogenetic distance and domain level structural changes.