Humans by Any Other Name
aka: Call A Human A Smeerp
In Speculative Fiction
, the word "human" can seem out of place in a universe where every other species is named after their homeworld. Unless, of course, they come from Humus
As a consequence of this, or perhaps just to sound "exotic", alien cultures often come up with their own monikers for Puny Earthlings
. Indeed, the word "Earthling" itself is an example, and it also shows that most of the time, oddly enough, they name humans after our own terms for our planet and its surroundings, rather than whatever Earth or the Sun is named in their
Of course, the word "human" itself originally meant "of earth", arguably making this Older Than Feudalism
. The implied contrast, however, was not inhabitants of the Earth as opposed to those of other planets, but mortals walking the earth as opposed to the celestial gods.
Sometimes indicative of Fantastic Racism
, though not as much as Call a Human a "Meatbag"
A subtrope of this is Planet Terra
open/close all folders
- "Terran" (from the Latin Terra, "Earth") is probably the most popular choice by far, which crept into all kinds of settings, from Starship Troopers to Blake's 7 to Starcraft, along with other examples. It probably got popular because it sounds like what you might call some alien race, and, at some point, wasn't immediately recognisable as "Earth", so it feels "alien". "Terran" also sounds cooler than "Human".
- Note that the French for Earthling is "Terrien", which reads and sounds pretty close to Terran. Thus, in many French-translated stories where 'Terrans' are involved, their name does not sound that cool and exotic (it even sounds dull when said with french phonetics).
- Schlock Mercenary uses the term "Terran" not to describe humans, but as a term to encompass any Earth-based sentient species, which includes humans, gorillas, chimps, dolphins, and African and Indian elephants. And yet aliens still say, "All you Terrans look alike to me".
- There's also the less common "Tellurian" from "Tellus", a variant Latin term for the Earth.
- "Solar(i)an" (from latin Sol, "Sun") is used less frequently, but to exactly the same effect.
- An older established term was "Earthling" - something of a Discredited Trope, as nowadays this brings to mind "naive children under the bootheels of little green martians", rather than "badasses". It also immediately conjures up the word "Puny".
- Star Control used the term "Earthling Cruiser" to describe our Alliance starship in the first game. The subsequent game(s) switched to calling them "Human Cruisers" likely due to the word's discrediting.
- It's worth bearing in mind that there are several technical words for "beings closely taxonomically related to humans". "Hominid" used to mean "humans and their extinct relatives", but according to The Other Wiki the modern term for this is "hominan". The More You Know...
Anime & Manga
- Keroro Gunsou gives us the title of Pekoponjin, because they refer to Earth as "Pekopon". In the manga it was "Pokopen", a rather nasty Japanese word for the Chinese, which was changed for obvious reasons.
- In Super Dimension Fortress Macross, humans and miniaturized Zentradi are known as "Microns" ("Micronians" in Robotech).
- The Arume from Blue Drop refer to earthly human beings as "Horime".
- Heroic Age officially designates Humans as "The Iron Tribe".
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the humans are also referred as "Lilim", and the entire human race is the 18th Angel.
- In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, humans are called Spirals in the end. This term also encompasses all humanoid races that can use Spiral Energy.
- In Uchuu Senkan Yamato, the invading Gamillans call the Earthlings "Terron".
- Magic: The Gathering considered doing this when they first decided to make Human into a creature type (previously, humans had only a "class" creature type and no "race"). They eventually decided to just use human, though.
- Kithkin (or Sangamis in the French version), Magic's Hobbit expy, could qualify. Especially since in the Lorwyn block, they are the creature type closest to what you would expect from humans (live in cities, have pink skin, use tech rather than magic...) They have the proportions of hobbits and lead idyllic, pastoral, cooperative lives. Lorwyn deliberately had no humans in it at all unless planeswalkers count.
- Other creature types like Metathran and Kor showed up around the same time as Human in much the same manner: previously, all members of these races had only "class" creature types. Apart from their blue skin, both qualify as examples of this trope.
Comics — Books
- 2000 AD's alien Editor-In-Chief, Tharg the Mighty, refers to humans as "Earthlets."
- In the original Marvel Comics version of The Transformers, the Autobots would refer to us as humans, while the Decepticons used the more derogatory "fleshling".
Films — Live-Action
- Though there is no Earth in Star Wars, most humans are referred to by their planet of origin — Corellians from Corellia, Coruscanti from Coruscant, Naboo from Naboo and so on. Collectively, they are called humans though however.
- In Willow, humans are referred to as "Daikini".
- In TRON, the programs call humans "Users".
- Battlefield Earth. Man-animal.
- "Tellurian" (from the Latin Tellus, a Roman earth-goddess) is a related example, most associated with Lensman author E. E. “Doc” Smith, but also seen elsewhere, including several episodes of Doctor Who.
- In addition, Solarian is the term used to describe the races native to the Solar System: Tellurians, Martians, and Venerians.
- Piers Anthony's Cluster books used the term "Solarian", named after the star, as opposed to the planet.
- Similarly, the Lizards in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar novels refer to humans as "Tosevites" — derived from Tosev, their name for Sol. When speaking formally, anyway. In casual speech, they're just as likely to refer to humans as "Big Uglies".
- Arthur Dent of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy gets called Earthman, although he is one of only two remaining humans. (Trillian is only ever "Trillian".)
- Animorphs averts the convention that aliens are named after their own home world, and instead, they call their planets "the Andalite home world," "the Hork-Bajir home world," and so on; it's mostly unclear whether they have any other names for these planets. Despite the fact that they use this convention for every other inhabited planet, they still call this planet "Earth" rather than "the human home world."
- In The Andalite Chronicles, Elfangor asks Loren if she is an Earther after hearing the name of her homeworld for the first time, leading to some speculation that the Andalite homeworld is called Andal.
- According to The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, it's actually the other way around: Andalites name planets after the dominant sentient species. Unless, like Earth, the dominant species already has their own name for it.
- In the Antares novels by Michael McCollum, the Ryall aliens refer to humans as "Monsters".
- In Fred Saberhagen's Berserker universe, all sapient life forms are called Human. Homo Sapiens is called the E.D., or Earth Descended "theme" of humanity. (Non-human Earthlife is also referred to as E.D. lifeforms.)
- In Larry Niven's Known Space stories, humans get different titles based on what planet they're from. Few of of these are references to the name of the planet. Earth humans are Flatlanders, humans from the asteroid belt (or any asteroids in the Solar System) are Belters, those from "We Made It" are Crashlanders (Guess how they — and the planet — got THAT name?), natives of Plateau are Mountaineers, and so on.
- Robert Sheckley's The Monsters features aliens identified in the text as "humans," who regard the visiting actual humans as (you guessed it) "monsters."
- In The Culture, humans are the most common species - apparently capable of interbreeding - despite evolving independently on thousands of different worlds, and the word "human" is generally understood to refer to all of these people.
- Well, within the Culture itself at least, but they all have tons of specialized organs which probably contributes to their capability of reproducing with other Humanoids outside the Culture (such as one half-Culture-by-biology character in Consider Phlebas who becomes pregnant with the child of a non-Culture Humanoid).
- In The Player of Games, at one point, the main character is forced to bet his reproductive organs on the outcome of a match and his AI companion assures him that the Culture has no intention of letting such "advanced biological equipment" fall into a potentially rival civilization's hands (the reverse engineering possibilities would be disastrous). If it came down to it, they would simply evacuate him as soon as he lost and face the political/military consequences.
- Interestingly, this does not seem to include H. sapiens itself — Earth is an uncontacted backwater through most of said books.
- In Codex Alera, Aleran isn't technically just another name for humans. Alera is the name of the continent they live on, and of their empire. However, since Alera is the only incontestably human nation (The Marat are Homo, but may not be sapiens), it's mostly a distinction without a difference.
- Played with in the Dragaera books: both the actual humans ("Easterners") and the basically-elves ("Dragaerans") refer to themselves as human and the other group as something else.
- In the Sector General books, every sentient species refers to themselves as "human", or by a word that the Translator Microbes translate as "human". As this is utterly useless to the medically-oriented protagonists, they frequently have to insist that their patients use the hospital's four-letter code description for different species.
- In the Tairen Soul series the word that isn't used is human or even Man. Instead they call the humans by their nation's name or elves and fey call them mortals.
- In the Prince Roger series, Mardukans (9-foot tall 4-armed guys with horns) call the stranded human company basik, after a rather dim creature that fills the same niche in the ecology as a rabbit. They quickly learn that this is a big mistake. The humans, in turn, call Mardukans "scummies" due to their slimy moist skins (they evolved from amphibians).
- In Hilari Bell's YA science fiction novel A Matter of Profit, the humans call themselves the Vivitare.
- The Kantri of Tales of Kolmar call humanity "Gedri", Silent Ones, because humans mostly can't use or hear the psychic "truespeech" that Kantri have as well as vocal speech.
- The animals from Tamora Pierce's The Immortals quartet call humans "two-leggers", for obvious reasons.
- In the Myth Adventures books, the dimension humans come from is known as Klah, and the humans themselves are Klahds (pronounced "clods").
- In The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel the Elders typically call humans "humani".
- "Tau'ri" in the Stargate Verse is an example that does not involve an Earth term, although, strictly speaking, it only refers to humans born on Earth (since most aliens are human). And even then, they couldn't resist the temptation to use "Terran" as well, because "Terra" just happened to be what the Ancients called Earth. The season six episode "Cure" also has an alien use the term "Earthans"... about Jonas Quinn and Teal'c, both of whom are actually Human Aliens. Jonas then corrects her: "Earthlings".
- It actually means "the first world," because Human Aliens are Earth humans taken to other worlds long ago to be used as slave labor by the villains. It sorta drifted to mean the people as well as the place.
- In earlier seasons, they were referred to as "Humans of the Tau'ri." After a while, people probably decided that was too clunky, and shortened it to just "Tau'ri."
- There was some kind of relationship between the Alterans, a.k.a. the Ancients, a.k.a. the Precursors, and the Romans. It's hard to see exactly what that relationship was - the Alterans are literally millions of years old, and had long since become Energy Beings governed by a noninterference doctrine by the time the city of Rome was founded - but the similarity between "tau'ri" and "terran" was not the only Latin-like alien word used on the show.
- It goes a bit further than that. The actual Ancient language is supposed to be similar to Latin in universe. Odds are it is a matter of certain parts of the universe lore pre-dating the point in the series where the Ancients began to be fleshed out in more detail rather than intentional.
- Played with in the Stargate Atlantis episode "Letters from Pegasus". Carson Beckett is recording a letter to his mom, and starts going off on a tangent about how "Earthlings are a scrappy bunch". Ford immediately stops him, assuming the use of the word "Earthling" as opposed to "human" to be a security breach. Carson matter-of-factly states, "She's knows I'm from Earth."
- In Babylon 5, humans are sometimes referred to as "Earthers". Fairly well justified as most humans are ruled by the Earth Alliance, their military is called EarthForce, and most if not all the other races have names derived from their homeworlds.
- The term "Earther" is also used to distinguish between humans from Earth and humans from the colonies. People from the Mars colony, for example, are derisively referred to as "Marsies".
- The Tomorrow People call normal humans "saps" (short for Homo sapiens, or just because they're saps).
- When a traitor to the human race is being interrogated in Space: Above and Beyond, he reveals that the enemy's nickname for humans translates roughly as "red stink things". Of course, our nickname for them is "chiggers" so...
- In Star Trek, most species have a name for the species in Federation Standard (English), which is usually derived from the Federation Standard name for their planet. (Bajorans from Bajor, Vulcans from Vulcan; in an aversion, Klingons from Qo'noS (prnonounced Kronos)). However, they also usually have a name for people from any particular planet. So a member of any species that was raised on Earth would be an Earthling, or on Bajor would be a Bajoran & so on. However, all species have at least one language of their own, which has a different name for their species that may have nothing to do with their name for their home planet. For example, in Imperial Standard Klingon (The Klingon language used by the Imperial Council, that can be learned at the Klingon Language Institute in Real Life) Klingon = tlhIngan. But their homeworld is called Qo'noS. Presumably the English word 'Klingon' was just a bad Human pronunciation at first.
- Names for the earlier races seem to be names given to them by Humans, rather than what they actually call each other. The two Romulan home worlds are Romulus and Remus, then there's the afore-mentioned Vulcan and Kronos...whoever was naming these races seemed to have a yen for Greco-Roman mythology.
- On at least one occasion, a Klingon has been heard referring to his homeworld as Kling. Of course, Star Trek suffers massively from CanonDiscontinuity. And, it's also been said that the original Klingon Homeworld was destroyed, and Qo'noS is the "new" Klingon Homeworld.
- Also in Star Trek, one (nonhumanoid—indeed, inorganic) alien race referred to our intrepid crew as "ugly bags of mostly water." The science officer points out that this is technically accurate.
- Mysteron agents in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons would use "Earthman" after having broken, or in order to break, the Masquerade. The invisible Voice of the Mysterons themselves also announced "We know that you can hear us, Earthmen" each week.
- In the earlier Gerry Anderson show Stingray (1964), various sea-dwelling uglies would call humans "Terraneans", since we come from land (terrain).
- Traveller divides "humaniti" into the "Solomani" (humans from Earth), the "Vilani" (Human Aliens from the planet Vland), and the "Zhodani" (Human Aliens from the planet Zhodane). The ancestors of the Vilani and the Zhodani were originally moved to those planets by the Precursors. There are several other minor human races, which were similarly transplanted from Earth.
- In Nobilis, humans get referred to as "beasts".
- In Warhammer 40,000, the Eldar race refers to humans as "Mon-keigh" (this being the eldar word meaning 'inferior', not to mention one of the least subtle puns ever). The Tau race use the term "Gue'vesa" or "Gue'la" (derived from a Chinese word for foreigners), depending upon whether said human(s) are allies or no. The remaining species of the universe (Orks, Necrons and Tyranids) refer to humans as "'umies", "the living", and "dinner", respectively.
- The Tyranids were retconned to actually be named after a world - Tyran, the first Imperial planet they ate. Knowing the Imperium, the name probably came from some filing protocol: the Tyranids were first properly identified on the planet Tyran, and thus the data probably got filed under "Tyran-ID" and the name stuck.
- The chock-fulla-weird-races Talislanta game system generally refers to humans by their nationality, and virtually never as "humans". The fact that some of those "human" nationalities lie well outside the range of physical types known on Earth — green humans, metallic golden humans, purple humans; humans with bat ears or webbed hands or no nose — would make the use of "human" seem incongruous at best.
- Starflight: In 2, after defeating the big bad, it is revealed that the Umanu are the human descendants of the Noah 6 colony ship.
- Tales of Rebirth refers to humans as 'huma' and Petting Zoo People as 'gajuma'.
- In Chrono Trigger, the Reptites call humans "apes".
- Just to drive home the fact that it's not set on Earth, the Final Fantasy games since Final Fantasy XI call humans Humes. And the Crystal Chronicles games has Clavats, but it's hard to tell whether or not they're actually supposed to be humans, as it has a chibified art style.
- Final Fantasy XI in particular still preserves the word "human" in adjective form; an NPC describes the mannequins you can have assembled in a quest as "more human than Hume!"
- Final Fantasy XIV refers to humans as "Hyur."
- It is endlessly debated as to whether or not Hylians are human, though the word "human" is used often in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the Oracle Series, and Majora's Mask. Maybe Nintendo was trying to end the bickering?
- The difference between Human and Hylian is actually made in some games (ALTTP and OOT). The hylians are usually an almost extinct race, of which Link and Zelda are part.
- In some games the difference is obvious: Hylians have Pointy Ears.
- "Human" and "Earthling" are mostly interchangable in Star Control 2. This is in part because they just arrived on the galactic scene (through donated technology from the Chenjesu), and because of the overprotective Arilou. (It's explained exactly why the Arilou are overprotective in Star Control 3.) In the situations where the difference matters, "Earthling" means "from Earth", while "Human" means Homo Sapiens Sapiens. A squirrel is Earthling, but not human; the protagonist is human but not an Earthling. (An Arilou catches itself making this mistake at one point, and corrects itself.) The status of the Androsynth is somewhat vague, but knowledgable characters in-game consistently refer to the Androsynth as a culture, not a species in its own right.
- There is also an interesting note in that humans called themselves 'earthlings' when they first were meeting with alien races in an attempt to avoid the implied speciesism in calling aliens inhuman, while the aliens skipped all the bother and just called them humans. Except for the Spathi, of course, who continually refer to them as "Hunams".
- Androsynth are refered as Androsynth, as they are no longer Earth-connected AND make pretty clear that they are not in friendly terms with Humans. Not that we can blame them. 100 years of racism and slavery can cause it, just because you are born normal way.
- The two major human factions in the X-Universe series are called the Argon and the Terrans. The Argon Federation is a Lost Colony that was cut off from Earth several hundred years before the games take place, and is named after its first leader, Nathan R. Gunne. The Earth State (commonly just called "Terrans") is the continuation of Earth's government, and controls the Solar System. Members of the minor factions like the Goners, Free State of Solara, and the Hatikvah Free League are generally just called humans.
- Averted in Mass Effect - humans are still referred to as humans. The only exception is the volus, who refer to humans as "Earth-clan" (and presumably they do that with other species, too). This extends to aliens as well — in the game, no aliens species are named for their homeworld (asari come from Thessia, salarians come from Sur'Kesh, turians come from Palaven, krogan come from Tuchanka, quarians and geth come from Rannoch, elcor come from Dakuuna, volus come from Irune, and hanar come from Kahje), and, unlike many, many other SF franchises, spell them in all-lowercase, just like the word "human".
- Fire Emblem Tellius has two races of characters: Beastmen are known as "Laguz" and Humans are known as "Beorc". 'Human' can also be used, but it's actually a racist remark unless said by another Beorc (the equivalent of calling a Laguz 'sub-human').
- Yune, the goddess of chaos in Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn has all sorts of names to refer to the player characters. "Meat puppet" is by far my favorite.
- In The Last Remnant Humans are called "Mitra".
- The colonists in Ace Online are called "Decaians".
- Ragnarok II The Gate Of The World's humans are called "Normans," which is probably a portmanteau of Human and Norse. More likely it refers to the Normans, a viking descended people who ruled various European lands during the Middle Ages.
- In Guild Wars: Eye of the North, the Asura use the pejorative term "bookah" for humans. In a cutscene, the term is revealed to refer to a violent, clumsy, stupid, bellowing imaginary creature used to frighten Asura children. This has somewhat expanded to cover any race they see as less intelligent than the Asura, meaning every other race.
- Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns referred to humans as the Mareten.
- Conquest Frontier Wars gives us the Terrans and it's only a matter of time before the bug aliens declare a war on Terra (sorry).
- In Dragon Age: Origins, the elves (particularly the Dalish) refer to humans as shemlen. The shorter term "shem" is used in a derogatory manner (not surprising, given what humans did to them).
- Albion uses the expression Celt and Helromier (a portmanteau of Hellenic and Roman) to distinguish the magic using humans of Albion and the technologically advanced Terrans. Terran humans are also referred to as Earthlings by the Kenget Kamulos.
- In StarCraft the term "terran" (lowercase even!) is used as a substitute in nearly all instances to describe humanity, even if the ones speaking are themselves humans. This is particularly strange since Earth (Terra) isn't even really a factor for most of the game.
- The naming convention has been applied for the Zerg in Starcraft II (at first it may seem like a retroactive application, but the planet had in fact already been mentioned in the lore section of the manual for the first game): they come from Planet Zerus (not Zeerust), and to tell the Zerus-zerg from Overmind-zerg, the from-Zerus ones are called "Primal Zerg". Neat, huh?
- While the term "human" is used in Rift, humans are more likely to be referred to by whichever of the two battling nations to which they belong.
- Xenoblade has the Homs, inhabitants of Bionis, who are pretty much identical to humans with a few exceptions. The word human isn't even mentioned once between them, and with good reason, since they aren't really humans. Actual humans used to exist long before the game's events before something went horribly right.
- The Locust in Gears of War tend to refer to humans by the derogatory term "groundwalker". Because the humans walk on the surface.
- Imperium Galactica II calls humans "Solarians" and reveals that many alien races are actually Human Subspecies.
- Averted in Earth And Beyond. Humans are still called that, although the human race became divided during the initial colonization of the Solar System. Those who remained behind on Earth are called Terrans, those who settled Mars are called Progen, and those who colonized the moons of Jupiter are called Jenquai. By the events of the game, the terms refer to nation-states, not worlds of origin, as all three have colonized other star systems which remain under their rule.
- FreeSpace uses Terran for humans, but also flips the trope by naming one alien race "Vasudans" after the Sanskrit word "Vasuda" which means... "Earth".
- In Wildstar the humans on the Dominion side are called "Cassians", after their homeworld in the setting, Cassus. The Exile humans on the other hand are simply called humans despite originating on the same planet, as they fled generations ago and have spent the time since in space. Presumably the differentiation is because of the animosity between the two.
- Red vs. Blue has Shisno, which means the excrement of the excrement of the most repugnant creature in the world.
- The baseline humans are referred as "Terrans" in Exo Squad to distinguish them from Neosapiens and get around the small fact that both races are human, regardless of the fact that they don't call Earth "Terra", or that many humans are natives of Venus or the moons of the outer planets.
- And possibly because the Homo sapiens like to call the Neo sapiens "Neos" or "Sapes", the only similar nickname for the Neo sapiens to call them back to differentiate would be "Homos".
- Characters from Futurama sometimes use the intentionally odd term "Earthicans" instead of more common monikers, though Earthican refers to anyone native to Earth, not just to humans and not to all humans. It's also used as a nationality, as Futurama's earth is all one 'country'. Therefore, Earthican refers to anyone who is a citizen of Earth, just like 'French' or 'American' describes someone from someone from France or America. Aliens and robots could be considered 'Earthicans' if they are recognized as citizens of Earth (pay taxes, etc.).
- Especially in earlier episodes, Earthling is used as a derogetory term for humans, usually when they've just be conqured... again.
- In Invader Zim, Zim calls humans "earthenoids." In one episode, he also refers to the extinct inhabitants of Mars as "marsoids."
- In Megas XLR, humans are called Earthers by the Glorft.
- Widget The World Watcher also used "Earther".