An alien species has a conveniently descriptive name based on their looks, behavior or blatantly obvious evolutionary provenance
. The species is exactly what it says on the hat
This can be:
- Justified in that the aliens are named by outsiders, although, as an intelligent alien species and possibly a sovereign alien nation you might want to inform the Earthlings that you do not much care for being referred to as Foul-Smelling Space Devils. However, sometimes the name can become an Appropriated Appellation. Another version is that the aliens' species name is automatically translated for human ears.
- Inexplicably so if the aliens actually refer to themselves, if not as Foul-Smelling Space Devils, as Stinkdevilonians calling attention to the writer's inability to come up with an alien-sounding name or, alternatively, their anvilicious approach to characterization.
Goes very well with Planet of Hats
and Space Romans
and might overlap with Named After Their Planet
if the naming convention extends to the homeworld as well. For some reason, felinoid and reptilian aliens are all but guaranteed to have a descriptive name.
Please note that this trope can be used by aliens on humans as well.
- The aliens that appear in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 are given the name "Extra-terrestrial Living-metal Shapeshifters", or "ELS" (pronounced "else") by humanity. Whether the ELS even have a name for themselves is unclear; they may not have an equivalent concept.
- The alien enemies in GunBuster are simply called "Space Monsters" (or "Uchuu-kaiju" in Japanese).
- While they likely do have an actual name for their species, the Prawns from District 9 were given their nickname because they resemble the small creatures. On top of that they are bottom-feeders and scavengers.
- The second Men in Black film has a gag where K is unsuccessfully fighting a particularly tough alien when J shouts to him "He's a Ballchinian!" K pulls down the alien's collar and reveals a scrotum dangling from his chin, which he promptly kicks.
- The outtakes reveal that Will Smith went through several variations on "guy with his balls on his chin" before settling on Ballchinian.
- The Bugs from the first movie (and later the animated series) also count.
- Star Wars
- The quite squid-like Admiral Ackbar is a Mon Calamari.
- The Nosaurians are really yes-Saurians.
- Sand People. They live in the desert.
- Both the name "Sand People" and the alternative name "Tusken Raiders" are explained in the Expanded Universe.
- The Frost Giants from the Thor film. Though the Jotun in the original mythology where gianter and frostier.
- All over the place in the works of Alastair Reynolds: Inhibitors, Nestbuilder, Pattern Jugglers, Shrouders, Scuttlers, Fountainheads, Musk Dogs, Smiling Ones, to name just a few.
- Arthur C. Clarke: The aliens in the Odyssey Series are simply called "the Firstborn," since they are Precursors. The ones in Childhood's End are called the Overlords, because they're in charge of Earth.
- In the Culture series, there's a race called the Affront who are sadistic. Justified though in that this is an insult they were called by other groups, which they took as a compliment and appropriated.
- Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series has the Catmen, who are human-sized humanoid cats.
- The Pierson's Puppeteers in Larry Niven's Known Space stories have two heads on stalks that look like hand puppets, hence the name.
- Puppeteers have two throats with three sets of vocal chords each, and it's a Running Gag that a human hearing a Puppeteer say his actual name will describe it using a variant on the phrase "industrial accident set to music". Their word for themselves as a race is accordingly unpronounceable by humans, but it translates into English as "Citizens". However, when talking to the humans of Known Space, they appropriate the human term "Puppeteers" (which, as it turns out, is apt for more than one reason). It's not clear if the Puppeteers are having a joke, just using a human term because they figure "that's what humans are going to call us anyway," or are trying to avoid the unpleasant connotations of the more literal translation ("We are Citizens; you are not").
- Lampshaded in Last Son of Krypton. Luthor has been taken captive by space aliens who communicate to him using a universal translator. The aliens explain that it translates into whatever word he expects to hear. Thus: "As I referred to you before, you are a Terran. I am a bug-head. The creature who just addressed you is a vulture-face."
- The Lemurians of the Destroyermen series are man-sized sapient lemurs. This is specifically the titular humans' name for them (they also call them Monkey-Cats or just 'Cats, while the Empire of New Britain calls them Ape Folk). The Lemurians call themselves Mi'Anaaka, which just means "people".
- The Syclarians of Starfleet Corps of Engineers. Would you believe they write their language in a circular fashion?
- Jack McDevitt's The Engines of God (part of his Priscilla Hutchins series) has "The Monument-Makers", a now-extinct race that traveled throughout the local part of the galaxy, setting up giant statues and mysterious fake cities on isolated, uninhabitable moons, including Iapetus, one of Saturn's moons. The real name of the Monument-Makers were the Cholais (meaning 'the Universal People', because the culture did not see itself as limited to just the one species), but this is not known until after the first novel.
- This is based on real-world archaeological naming practices for when we just don't have any way of knowing what the lost population called themselves. Hence the "Mound Builders," a set of related archaic societies that left lots of large constructed mounds in the parts of ancient North America they called home. Or the ancient Clovis culture, so named because their distinctive tools were found near the city of Clovis, New Mexico.
- In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar, reptilian invaders calling themselves simply "The Race" are often referred to as "Lizards" by humans. They return the insult by calling humans "Big Uglies".
- In The Dark Side of the Sun, the vanished Precursor race is known as 'The Jokers'.
- Both alien races in the Ender's Game series: Buggers look like bugs, and piggies look like pigs. The resemblance is reasonably close in the case of the buggers, but not especially close in the case of the piggies.
- In later books, it's revealed that "bugger" is a vulgar, insulting way to refer to the species, and their official name is "the Formics" (which is just Latin for "ants"). The term "piggies" is more affectionate than insulting, but they likewise are officially referred to as "the Pequeninos" (Portuguese for "the little ones").
- In Animorphs, the Howlers, who have a horrible scream that incapacitates others, especially sentient species. Justified because they were created by Crayak and probably have no real culture of their own, making them named by him or others whom they've come in contact with.
- In Remnants, the human characters name the species they come in contact with inside Mother. The "Blue Meanies" wear a dark blue space suit when first introduced; they actually call themselves the Children (of Mother herself). There's also the Riders, so named for the hoverboards they ride, the Squids (which maintain Mother), and the Shipwrights (Starfish Aliens who created Mother).
- The Babyeaters in The Baby-Eating Aliens.
- Doctor Who
- The Doctor himself is a Time Lord.
- Strictly speaking that's his nationality, not his species. He's actually a Galifreyan.
- Sea Devils, who sometimes call themselves that despite the name having been coined by humans.
- The Abzorbaloff. Absorbs people.
- Terry Nation had a habit of doing this with his Doctor Who stories. To give two examples (both from The Chase) the planet Aridus is a desert world and the planet Mechanus is inhabited by robots.
- Aridus and Mechanus are extreme examples, since Aridus was once a lush world and Mechanus wasn't supposed to be taken over by the Mechanoids. One Doctor Who Magazine article referred to "the charming habit human colonists have in Terry Nation stories of naming planets after what's going to happen to them."
- The firey (Pyro) villains (Vile) of "The Fires of Pompeii" are the Pyrovile.
- The Cybermen of course. Alien Humans who became cyborgs.
- The Daemons encountered by the Third Doctor. Justified in that they inspired ideas of demons.
- The reptilian Draconians.
- The Forest of Cheem, tree-people.
- The Futurekind.
- Blood-drinking Haemovore.
- Ice Warriors. This is another name humans came up with.
- The Cheetah People in Survival.
- The Cat People in "New Earth" and "Gridlock".
- Star Trek used to be very fond of this and typically falls to the "inexplicable" side.
- The Romulans and Remans come from Romulus and Remus, respectively. When they're introduced in the Prequel show Star Trek: Enterprise, the uneducated crew of Enterprise is apparently not surprised that those aliens are named for mythological figures from Earth. The prequel could have easily turned this trope around by having humans name the Romulans "Romulans".
- Non-canon novels establish that both the Romulans and the Vulcans really have different names.
- And yet when Hoshi mis-translates the name as "Romalin", T'pol corrects her.
- Avoided by retcon for the Klingon homeworld whose spelling was changed from "Kronos" to "Qo'noS" to imply that it just happens to sound similar to the child-eating titan from Earth mythology.
- The Grazerites from Grazer have evolved from grazing animals. Yes.
- The Saurians from Sauria look like dinosaurs.
- The Caitians from Cait are humanoid cats.
- Denebian Slime Devils. Though since they're neither humanoid nor sapient, it's not like they have some other word for themselves.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: in "Home Soil" the alien crystalline life form calls humans "ugly bags of mostly water."
- The Bynars of Star Trek: The Next Generation who live in pairs.
- They also communicate between themselves in binary.
- Star Trek: Voyager: The Hierachy. Low-ranking Hierachy individuals are not allowed to do anything out of the routine without consulting their superiors first.
- The Borg, who are, of course, cyborgs.
- Mocked on Supernatural: Dean comes across a new type of demon that no one has ever seen before, so Bobby says that Dean gets to name it. Dean calls them Jefferson Starships, "because they're horrible and hard to kill."
- Traveller alien races.
- Aslan: feline-like humanoids, named either for the Turkish word for "lion" or the character Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.
- Vargr: wolf-like humanoids, named from the Old Norse word meaning "wolf".
- The K'Kree are a partial example. Their nickname is "Centaurs", because they appear very similar to the centaurs of Greek Mythology.
- The Hivers live together in underground nests.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- The dinosaur-like Saurials in 2nd edition.
- Women who could turn into swans: Swanmays of 2nd edition.
- The dragon-like Dragonborns of 4th edition.
- The misshapen Mongrelmen of 2nd edition.
- The living plant siege engines called Battlebriars.
- The shadowy, sneaking Dark Ones.
- The Devourers who eat souls.
- The Displacer Beasts, who can make themselves look like they were somewhere else.
- The telepathic, mind-controlling Mind Flayers.
- The speedy Quicklings.
- Warhammer 40,000: the various Tyranid organisms' name were given by the Guardsmen fighting them. Hence Ripper swarms, Gargoyles, Carnifexes (butcher in fake Latin)...
- A lot of the larger tyranid organisms have Latin or Greek names - Dominatrix (female lord or controller), Haruspex (a priest who interprets entrails), Malefactor (criminal or wrongdoer), Dacytlis (fingered), Biovore (eater of living things), Zoanthrope (animal-man), Lictor (Roman magistral attendant)...
- Strangely used by the Tau in that their vehicles are all named after Earth fish (Piranha, Devilfish, Hammerhead...) and use Greek-letter callsigns.
- The Eldar also count. They're space elves of a sort, and "Eldar" is Tolkien's term for the Elven race, which literally translates from Quenya as "people of the stars". Their Craftworlds also have a primarily Celtic theme to their names, to give them a mythological twist, while the Dark Eldar city is called Comorragh (= Gomorrah) to indicate the depth of their debauched culture. The twisted Haemonculus covens also work here, with Haemonculus apparently being a compound of haemo- ("blood" in Greek) and homunculus (a miniature person in alchemical lore).
- Also the Necrons, who are undead skeleton-robots with a name evocative of death in Greek.
- The races in Cosmic Encounter have been presumably named by each other rather than by themselves, giving us the Zombies, the Virus, the Seekers, the Philanthopists, the Macrons, the Void ... the names are related to how their racial power works (Zombies never go to the warp, Virus have the ability to multiply, etc.)
- Subverted in Starslip: the ship visits an alien race called the Oculons, who have no eyesight. Vanderbeam bemoans the irony of their name considering they can't see, and one of them tells him, no, that's not what they call themselves, humans just named them that because their planet looked like a giant eye.
- Schlock Mercenary has an amphibious species called the Tohdfraugs.
- And Schlock is a "carbo-silicate amorph". In this case it kind of makes sense, because his species didn't evolve naturally and give themselves a name; they were originally data storage units which happened to spontaneously gain sentience (in a very literal sense, Schlock is all brain).
- The Uniocs. Discussed trope, as Kevyn asks why the Uniocs were called that, rather than "Oth-ers" upon hearing that their name for their homeworld is "Oth". Turns out, they wanted to be called "one-eyes", and not "strangers".
- The Tetrisoids. Body structure consisting of a head with four limbs (apparently adapted for locomotion and manipulation) arranged tetrahedrally.
- The Law of Purple has the Nekojin, a race of cat people.
- Orion's Arm has several examples:
- Meistersingers are tree-like intelligent creatures that consist of the "Meister" (the main tree) and its "choir" of attendant animal-like lifeforms that it controls via "singing".
- Hildemar's Knots (presumably named after the person who discovered them), which are, well, intelligent "knots" that live on the surfaces of a cluster of neutron stars. They don't appear to have names among themselves, and communicating with them at all is difficult due to their extremely different perception of the universe causing them to view anything beyond the surface of their neutron star to be abstract mathematical concepts.
- Angel Hairs, an Uplifted Animal from a gas giant ecology, made up of extremely long floating strands.
- The Jacks, so named because no one's sure if they are extinct or not; they keep unexpectedly "popping up" on different worlds like a Jack-in-the-box, over the course of thousands of years.
- Both alien species and individuals in Ben 10 have descriptive names, for example, Galvanic Mechamorphs for Upgrade's species, Vulpimancers for Wildmutt, and Florauna for Wildvine.
- Two more notable examples are when it turns out that the nickname Ben gave his forms is actually spot on for the actual species name, translated from Dog Latin. Fourarm is an example of a Tetramand, a species whose most notable trait is that they have four arms. Likewise, there are Arachnosimians, who look half spider, half monkey, which Ben called Spidermonkey.
- The lobster/crab-like Decapodians of Futurama.
- There would actually be quite a few examples: the Amphibiosans (amphibians), the Brain-Spawn (floating brains), the Amazonians (a One-Gender Race of gigantic women), etc. The Nibblonians also sort of count, using that name on the grounds that they're "like Nibbler." (Presumably they have their own name that would take longer than the age of the universe to pronounce.)
- "Into The Wild Green Yonder" has the (unsurprisingly) extinct striped biologist taunters◊, striped animals that taunt biologists.
- ThunderCats (2011), despite being set on an alien planet, simply calls its Petting Zoo People by obvious names: Cats, Dogs, Lizards and so on, but gets a bit more creative with more fantastic races, like Petalars, Giantors and Cute Machine teddy bears the Ro-Bear Berbils.
- Invader Zim gives us the Slaughtering Rat People of Blorch, the planet where Skoodge was sent.
- Earthworm Jim has the Planet of the Easily Frightened People.