Sci-fi and fantasy writers often find themselves with the challenge of creating dozens, if not hundreds, of exotic-sounding names for their characters and locations.
Perhaps it's just because they want something that sounds pleasing to their Anglophone audiences, or maybe they're uncreative, but in the end their countless alien species will have remarkably similar (and boring) sounding names. They seem to be especially common amongst relatively unimportant characters.
Television sci-fi writers seem to be fond of using a particular formula: The name may start with any consonant followed by any vowel. For an example, we'll start with "Ga".
The next letter will be an R or an L (sometimes both) OR an M or N. Next up is another vowel, usually followed by R/L or M/N. An R or L may be followed or substituted with another consonant, usually something soft. This would give us something like "Galdin" or "Gamar."
If it's a woman's name, a "feminine" (to Western ears) ending such as -a or -ia will usually be added, eg. "Galdina," "Gamaria."
Names will sometimes end with T, D or K, although these are more common in the warrior race
. They will commonly be given names with hard consonants and guttural sounds. Sounds such as K, Ch, T, Th, Z and sometimes X are favored - K especially as the last consonant, if not the last letter. R may also be used as a final letter, if only because it makes a good excuse for someone to make a hearty "ARRGH!" sound: "Well met, GormARRGH!"
Writers are also fond of using the Punctuation Shaker
on warrior race names
like salt on cheap French fries.
Female members of the warrior race may be exempt from the harsher-sounding names carried by the men and given names that fit the former formula better: for example, Klingons such as Sirella, Larna and Mara.
On the other hand, elves will virtually always have names and a language that sounds Tolkien-esque, full of soft sounds such as Th, Dh, D, L, R, M, N, and V. Doubled-up vowels are popular, and names often as not end with the letter L or N. Elven names are often on the long side, usually passing the seven-letter mark on a regular basis. Where a female character in a sci-fi show would be called Marin, an elven female would be named Marianael.
Vowels are often doubled up to increase the exotic factor; usually A and U— Maara instead of boring old Mara. (A for nice aliens, U for mean ones. Bonus points if the name is some variant of Cruul/Kruul.)
As a corollary, you can often tell a lot about a race just from the names of its members: the harshness of the species is often directly proportionate to the harshness of its language. You will probably never see a race of peaceful agrarians with names such as "Gorthog" or "Churgzak," nor will you ever see a race of bloody warriors with names like "Mathiella" or "Farlian". You can bet that someplace called "Jakrizag" isn't going to be a world of green meadows and fluffy bunnies. Someplace like that will have a pleasant-sounding name like "Elasolia". In some cases, even the same name
will appear harsher in the transcription that an author adopts for the language of a harsher culture: "Dhârkalen" sounds harsher than "Darcaln"
despite being pronounced almost the same way.
Mind you, most of the patterns described above do have limited factual underpinnings
, in what is (somewhat dauntingly) called a Sonority Sequencing Principle
Unless the setting as a whole has some kind of Theme Naming
(like all the villains in an arc are refrigeration equipment or musical instruments
), anime aliens often seem to have repeated sounds in their names. It might be because Japanese onomatopoeia tend to be reduplicated like that (they use them for a lot more things than sounds, e.g. "shibu-shibu" means "reluctantly"), and the reduplicated words in alien speech are meant to symbolize a collection of inhuman sounds
A Planet Named Zok
is a Sub-Trope
. See also A Villain Named Zrg
, Planet of Hats
, Xtreme Kool Letterz
, and Fantastic Naming Convention
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Anime and Manga
- In Keroro Gunsou, the Keronian race and a select few from other alien races have names that adhere strictly to an ABB rhyming pattern. Keroro, Giroro, Tamama, Kururu, Dororo, you get the idea.
- The Deviluke in To Love-Ru seem to mostly follow the "duplication" structure, with their princesses named Lala, Momo, and Nana. Their male names don't seem to follow it, i.e. Gid and Peke.
- The Ctarl-ctarl in Outlaw Star also reduplicate, like their ambassador Aisha Clan-clan and their flagship the Orta Hone-hone.
- Superman's cousin is named Kara, which is an example of the trope, but an odd one in that the name became popular in English as an actual name after the introduction of the character, to the point where on Smallville she just calls herself Kara and there's nothing weird about the name. In truth, it isn't actually alien, rather of Proto-Italo-Celtic origin (Italian "beloved", Irish "friend"), but as stated above, it was hardly ever used as a given name until long after Supergirl started.
- Averted in the Mike Baron & Steve Rude comic Nexus, where most of the aliens have names like Dave, Fred, Sinclaire, and Tyrone. Fred converts to Judaism and changes his name to Judah.
- Legion of Super-Heroes has a lot of made-up or spelling altered names: Tinya, Brin, Luornu, Jo Nah, Wimena... to name a few.
- Parodied in a Monty comic strip, where Monty was writing a paragraph for a fantasy novel. He activates his word processor's spell-check function... causing his computer to selfdestruct.
- The Nava Verse for the most part only exhibits names whose letters do not appear in the same arrangement anywhere else on the internet.
- There are plenty of alien personal names in With Strings Attached: Stal, Keelan, Grynun, Fi'ar, Remlar, Terdan, Lyndess, Grunnel, Brox, As'taris, Ma'ar, Kerrun, Sapsa, Deris, Bayanis... but just try to figure out which ones are male and which are female.
- Word of God has it that the names are internally consistent based on a scheme of the author's own.
- Discussed in Gentlemen Broncos, in which a sci-fi writer orders a class of young writers to name their characters things like this, insisting a girl rename her character, Teacup, Tylonious.
- Completely averted by J. R. R. Tolkien. The names of his characters are not only meaningful in the (invented) languages, but he also has complete pronunciation guides, and also multiple fantasy alphabets supplied. He even has rules for how the same letters are used for different languages (like how, say, Italian and English don't use the Roman alphabet in quite the same way).
- The Inheritance Cycle is full of these: the hero's kingdom of Alagaësia, an evil emperor/king named Galbatorix, hideous mooks called Ra'zac, brutish orc-like creatures called Urgals, a beautiful elf named Arya and homeland of the elves Alalea.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy gives us Vl'hurgs, G'Gugvunts and Silastic Armourfiends of Striterax (whose army is called something even scarier), though Douglas Adams was deliberately and famously having fun with this trope throughout the series. He also parodied it with Trillian, which sounds at first to the audience like an alien name, but we soon find out the character is actually a human woman from modern-day Earth, and she just has an odd nickname (it's short for Trisha McMillan). He also dips into various different aesthetics of science fiction for his alien names - Zaphod Beeblebrox's name is ssupposed to sound Raygun Gothic, 'Vogon' is supposed to sound a bit Doctor Who, Hotblack Desiato is supposed to sound like a character from a dystopic science-fiction story, and so on.
- Hotblack Desiato is in fact the name of a genuine London [real] estate agency.
- The aliens created by Larry Niven always have names like this. Known Space alone has aliens with names like Chmee, Kdapt-Riit, Lloobee, Hrodenu, Kzanol, Halrloprillalar, Harkabeeparolyn, Phssthpok, and Kawaresksenjajok. The only exception are those aliens who possess vocal apparatus that make their names are so unpronouncable to humans, like the Pierson's Puppeteers (who choose names from the alien cultures they are working with as nicknames) or who don't use personal names (like the telepathic Grogs, who can instinctively tell who is being referenced in a conversation, or the Bandersnatchi, who just never bother with things like names). Also there are the low caste Kzin who are named after their jobs (Speaker-To-Animals). What do you expect from a writer whose full name is "Lawrence Van Cott Niven".
- Niven once collaborated with a few other authors on a shared-world building project. The planet they were creating was originally going to be called Thrassus. Niven thought it sounded too Latin, so he changed the name to Thraxisp.
- Animorphs have an odd one indeed: Hork-Bajir. A rather peaceful race, despite the tough-as-nails name. Except they have blades EVERYWHERE. But they wouldn't hurt a fly. Until the Yeerks got hold of 'em.
- And then there's the Andalites, whose names run the gamut, but are always at least three part. Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill, anyone?
- The middle name is from one of the parent middle names, if you look at Ax's parents' names in The Alien.
- Yeerk names indicate the parental grub and have a number designation afterward that refers to their order of origination from the tri-parent. Originally the number changed as rank changed, but it was retconned to be permenant. In the case of a twin, one is the prime and one the lesser, like Visser Three and his brother. The prime gets all the best hosts and assignments. So, Visser Three is Espin9466 prime, the 9466th grub from the Espin tri-parent and the prime twin.
- Anne McCaffrey pays a lot of attention to her naming conventions in the Dragonriders of Pern series.
- All dragon's names end in TH, but the reason for this is never explored. (Word of God says it's because dragons have forked tongues, so would speak with a lisp. (Never mind the fact dragons never actually speak with their mouths, they only ever use mind-speech.)
- Do people with lisps think with lisps too?
- It is traditional on Pern to name a child with a combination of the first half of the father's name, and second half of the mother's name. This is occasionally abandoned when the result is awkward, or could cause confusion as to paternity.
- All male dragonrider's names have an apostrophe stuck in: their names are shortened forms of their pre-Impression names. A prequel novel tells us that it is the dragons that first started doing this and that they, at the time, shortened the names of both men and women. Shortened names are meant to be easier and quicker to shout while in the air, which explains why the dragons turned Falarran into F’lar. (The danger of mishearing names is apparently not as important.) After Jaxom Impresses Ruth, Lessanote wryly notes that weyrwomen usually choose names that produce something nice when shortened: J’xom and Jax’m don't quite cut it, to her ears. (Fridge Logic: J’om is dead easy.)
- Averting this was the original inspiration for Robert Heinlen's Stranger in a Strange Land, to the point where the original title was "A Martian Named Smith".
- Harry Turtledove's reptilian Race from Worldwar have Only One Name each and it's inspired by Sssnaketalk. It's noted a few times that repeated letters in their names (such as the character Ttomalss) are sounded separately and are not compounded together. For the same reason, if the combination 'SH' is found in a name, it is pronounced 'ss-hh', not 'sh'.
- The Ghiscari people from A Song of Ice and Fire have a naming convention which will make any evil alien proud. Lots of Rs and Zs and Ks, and a generally unpleasant sound which makes one (Westerosi, i.e. Fantasy Anglo-Saxon) character dismiss: "They are all Harzoos to me". They are a people of slavers with cruel and unusual customs.
- The Star Trek franchise had plenty of these: Kalo, Malin, Cadmar, Domar, Talas, Talla, Keval, Melora, Latara, Liria, Gilora, Tagana, Onaya, Damar, Danar, Toran, Nador, Aluura and Anara. The token Proud Warrior Race Guys, the Klingons, had names such as Kang, Kor, Koloth, K'Voc, Kaz, Klag (Klingons are very fond of K, it seems), Morak, Brok'Tan, Leskit and Thopok.
- In the original series, there seemed to be a specific rule about this. Every named male Klingon had a name beginning with K, while male Vulcans had names beginning with S and ending in K, with three letters in the middle, and females had names beginning with T'. Enterprise stuck to this mostly, as did the earlier movies (with the exception of Saavik, a half Vulcan-half Romulan woman, and Maltz, a Klingon crewman). Worf broke the pattern.
- A lampshade is hung on the similarity of Vulcan names in the Expanded Universe novel "The Lost Years", which explains that the S—K pattern is in honor of Surak. In a flashback, a contemporary rival of Surak berates another Vulcan (who has just changed his own name to fit the pattern), pointing out as the years go by, Surak's followers are going to have to come up with increasingly ridiculous names. Also note: Assuming that their alphabet has 26 letters, this allows for only 17576 distinct male Vulcan names. (And this includes names without vowels!)
- On Voyager, all Talaxians have an X somewhere in their name.
- In the novelization of the "reboot" movie Star Trek, Nero explains that Romulan names are all but impossible for humans to pronounce correctly, so it is customary to render them into English by pronouncing the closest phonetic equivalent backwards (Which Romulans find less grating than hearing their names consistently butchered). Nero's name is really closer to "Oren", but the "r" can not be faithfully reproduced by a human.
- In an interesting coincidence, this means that Sela, the half-Romulan daughter of Tasha Yar, may actually be named something close to "Alice".
- The Star Trek Novel Verse has a series of "rules". While there are exceptions to all of these (no one culture or race can be truly homogenous in any custom), we have the following trends.
- Tellarites have three names, usually of one or two syllables, the middle being a connective that appears to be chosen from a small pool. Examples include Bera chim Gleer, Bersh glov Mog, and Mor glasch Tev. (The names seem to suggest that these porcine aliens are Space Jews.)
- Hermats have a name followed by a number, e.g. Burgoyne 172 or Rulan 12.
- Among the Nasats, names are letter-number-shell colour, e.g. P8 Blue, Z4 Blue, C29 Green or V1 Red.
- Triexians have two names connected by "na", e.g. Krelis na Then and Arex na Eth, or sometimes "ko", as in Nexa ko Tor.
- Andorians have long first names and a family name prefixed with th', sh', zh' or ch', depending on gender (e.g Thirishar ch'Thane, Hravishran th'Zhoari, Sessethantis zh'Cheen or Kellarasana zh'Faila). They also have a shorter "familiar" name to compensate for the length- in the four examples given, these would be Shar, Shran, Thantis and Kell.
- Coridanite names very frequenly end in a V.
- Tholians have a single name, which usually ends in "ene". Examples include Loskene, Tezrene, Yilskene and Kasrene.
- Damiani names have two syllables separated by an apostrophe, followed by a letter, an apostrophe and ullh, ullho or ullhy. Examples include Ra'ch B'ullhy, Je'tran T'ullh and Ne'al G'ullho.
- Romulan names commonly end in "k" (Charvanek, Ruanek, Kalavak, N'Vek), as do Vulcan names (Tolek, Sivek, Taurik). D' and N' are common Romulan prefixes, while T' is a Vulcan feminine prefix.
- Thallonians have the honorific "Si" (Zoran Si Verdin, Jang Si Naran, etc).
- Betelgeusians like the "uu" sound, and apostrophes, e.g. Kuu'iut or Uuvu'it. Rhaandarites like the "aa" sound (Gaanth, Zaand).
- Manraloth like the "ae" sound, e.g. Giriaenn.
- Denobulans like "m", "g", "p" or "f" sounds.
- Betazoid males have names of one or two syllables (Tam, Cort, Gart, Ven), the females of two, three or four (Anissina, Mollarana, Damira), while their family names often end in n (Enaran, Kaldarren, Povron) or x (Xerix, Mryax, Xerx).
- Efrosians tend to use a "Ra-" prefix on the surname (Ra-Yalix, Ra-Havreii, Ra-Ghoratreii), but not always.
- Benzite names are two syllables and harsh-sounding (Meldok, Salmak, Cardok).
- Tzenkethi names have four components: individual name, job, echelon within that job, proficiency grade. Example: Alizome Tor Fel-A, with "tor" indicating a position as special agent to the Autarch, "fel" being her membership in the "problem-solver" echelon, and "A" indicating the highest proficiency in that role.
- Chelon names have lots of short, sharp syllables that sound like wet clicks and snaps - "i"s and "t" are common (Rinsit, Simmerith, Jetanien, Miltakka)
- Alonis have long names like Quirmirkis, Nerramibus or Liezakranor. When off-world, they add a shorter additional name to the beginning to designate their function (“Tel” is diplomat, “Los” is soldier), and split the name in two (e.g. Los Tirasol Mentir is probably Tirasolmentir back home, Ambassador Tel Ammanis Lent is probably Ammanislent).
- Bolian names tend to be one or two syllables.
- In fact, most races and cultures show patterns in their naming, often subtle ones. It is possible in many cases to identify a character's species or culture by name alone.
- Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis have more than their share - for example: Orlin, Harlan, Mallin, Nyan, Darian, Ren'al, Kalan, Pallin, Merrin, Marin, Perna, Sallis, Selana, Vala Mal Doran, Shayla, Zarah, Chaya Sar and Ladon Radim. Prominent Jaffa (the warrior race) had names such as Teal'c, Bra'tac, Se'tak, and Gerak.
- Oddly enough, even though he's an alien, Jonas Quinn has a rather Earthly-sounding name. The actor's name is Corin Nemec. Does that seem right to you?
- Many of the aliens on the show are really humans, and descended from natives of Earth. While their cultures had millennia to evolve independently, the presence of significant cultural continuity with Earth is a common plot point. This means the show has its own "Laws of Names," with character names being one (of many) hints as to what ancient Earth culture their ancestors represented.
- Even more oddly, it's the SG-1 (which takes place in this galaxy) characters who are likely to follow the Law, but in Atlantis, a great many aliens have two names and stay far from the Punctuation Shaker. Milky Way, we get Teal'c, Shak'l, Fro'tak, and all those -n names (most of the above list comes from SG-1.) Pegasus, we get Acastus Kolya, Teyla Emmagan, Ronon Dex, Lucius Lavin, the aforementioned Ladon Radim... okay, there are still several -n names, but it's not as ubiquitous. Earth-style names are actually quite unusual for the Milky Way. You're still hard-pressed to find women whose given names don't end with A, though.
- The more normal names in Atlantis are in keeping with the show's theme — almost everything there was influenced strongly by the Ancients, and the Ancients have a very Latin naming scheme to associate them with the Romans (the Romans being to roads what the Ancients were to stargates, more or less). Even the Ancient language is basically Canis Latinicus.
- Doctor Who's Romanadvoratrelundar (Romana for short) fits quite well, although her full name is rarely used on screen.
- The planet Raxacoricofallipatorius
- The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe.
- Extra-terrestrial Power Rangers have names like Andros, Zhane, Karone, Maya, Trip, Kat Manx, Anubis "Doggie" Kruger, and Tyzonn.
- Parodied in a Forgotten Realms short story in which an illusion-masked Volo visits Menzoberranzan. Asked his name by a drow official, he barks out a made-up series of Xs and Zs that he hopes will sound sufficiently drow-like. He gets busted, not because his random choice of syllables is complete unpronounceable nonsense, but because it's a female name for dark elves.
- Zigzagged in Warhammer 40K. While Ork and many Chaos names follow the usual Ks-and-Rs-out-the-wazoo route, the Tau have a complex system that contains the Tau's homeworld, caste, rank, and personality.
- The existence of a partial Ork phraseology means that many names can be translated as deed names or boasts. For example, Nazdreg Ug Urdgrub means (roughly) Wealthy Destroyer With Lots of Cunning (though it can also be read as White Cut From Swarm of Hidden things, Ork language being both context dependant and made to do an awful lot of work with only a few glyphs).
- The FASA Star Trek game justified Klingon naming patterns by saying adult Klingons change the first letter of their name to show what their adult career is. A Klingon child who was named Vlou at birth, and who goes into the Imperial Navy, would change his name to Klou. Since most of the Klingons seen in the original series were Navy ....
- Mass Effect's characters generally follow this trope to a T. Garrus, Liara, Wrex, Kal'Reegar, Tali'Zorah... There are simply too many examples to list.
- Despite the name being Japanese in origin, Garamos (translated here as Galamoth) from the Castlevania series fits the above naming example almost perfectly.
- All the Orsimer in The Elder Scrolls have names like "Bug gro-Muzgob". Nobody is surprised. Ditto goes for Wood Elves, High Elves, Argonians and Khajiits. The rest of the races are more down-to-earth: Bretons had old Briton names that were replaced in Oblivion by French names, Dunmers have Assyrian-sounding names, Imperial names are Canis Latinicus, Nord names are Viking-like, and Redguard names are pretty much normal Anglo-Saxon.
- Some Redguards have names that sound like Ghetto Names (Redguards are Tamrielic black people). Try imagining a white person named "Trayvond." It's as difficult as imagining a non-green person named "Burz gro-Kash" or a non-Viking named "Ongar."
- Skyrim offers an explanation for Orcs. "Burz" is the given name, "Kash" is his home stronghold. Also, the gro- suffix becomes gra- for females.
- As of Skyrim, Redgaurd naming conventions and culture have become a mixture of Arabic and Moorish. They now have names like Nazir, Saadia, and Iman. The latter being Arabic for 'faith'.
- Cyrodiilic names in Skyrim shifted from Latin to Italian (i.e. Adrienne Avenicci).
- In Neopets, Grundos, which are alien from Neopia, usually have names like this. But that only applies to (most) plot/game characters; 'user'-owned Neopets (Inlcuding Grundos) may have Names like this, or common names with numbers added.
- Most of the aliens in Iji have names like these. Notably, most of the names ending in -a do not belong to females, as Krotera, Yukabacera, and Asha are all male. The only other named aliens are Tor, Vateilika, Ansaksie, Iosa, Hel Sarie, and Kiron.
- In Metroid Prime 2: Echos, the Luminoth have names like U-Mos, A-Kul, and other variations that involve a letter, dash, then three more letters. There is also V-Mos, so the second part might be like a last name.
- Warcraft milks the Meaningful Name trope for all it's worth for the first names of the characters, and the last names are more often than not a case of Luke Nounverber.
- Orcs use harsh-sounding, warlike letters. "Garrosh", "Drek'thar", "Aggra"
- Both elven races use flowing names, with blood elves trying to outdo the night elves in terms of poshness. "Alleria", "Sylvanas", "Illidan"
- Tauren (and tuskarr), being down-to-earth people, use 'gravy' consonants a lot. "Magatha", "Baine"
- Draenei, being lawful but exotic, spice these with double vowels. "Maraad", "Iduuna", "Dornaa".
- Trolls use Xtreme Kool Letterz and apostrophes a lot, implying mischief and a sinister side. "Zul'jin", "Zalazane", "Zanzil"
- Parodied in Questionable Content, when Jimbo the trucker (who also writes bad romance novels) decides to start writing bad fantasy novels.
Jimbo: First one's gonna be titled "March of the Sword-Princess Leihaephaera".
Marten: Wow, how do you spell that?
Jimbo: No f***in' clue. Lotsa A's and E's, I guess. But it sounds cool.
- SF Debris: Hilariously exaggerated in his review of The X-Files pilot episode when the FBI section chief asks how a case involving the paranormal would be prosecuted.
SF Debris: I point you to the disastrous case of Kramer vs. Gelavan-pah-doi!-doi!-bloop-ooh-ueh-fwuh-whoop-whulululululuh which showed how difficult jurisdiction can be in establishing these cases.
- It was discovered, in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe that every sentient human species whose vocal apparatus was similar enough to that of humans and whose language was in the frequency range to be audible by humans, somehow tended to have names that were rather similar to Terran names. This was driven home rather powerfully when the High Chancellor of the Pelkon Confederacy, Luuk Skeewa Kirr, visited earth.
- In Invader Zim, most Irkens have short names, such as Zim, Tenn, Tak, or El, but there's also a one shot character named Gasploodge and several Irkens with names like Skutch, Larb, Spleen, Spork and Skoodge. Word of God has it that they didn't try too hard at consistency since an alien planet would have names that vary wildly just like ours. Word of God also has it that Shloonxtaplonxtis exists as a member of the Resisty solely to parody this trope, though, so they were at least aware of the Law of Alien Names.
- Subverted somewhat in Galactik Football where all the aliens have names like Warren and Nealy and the heroes have names like D'Jok, Sinedd and MicroIce.
- Futurama has Lrr, Ndnd, Kif (a rather mild example), Morbo, Melllvar ("that's Melllvar with three L's"), and Turanga Leela (even though she is actually a human mutant who was passed off as an alien).
- An episode featured the interplanetary registration lines to apply for Mars University. It's alphabetized by first letter of family name: A through J, K through Y, and the longest line, Z.
- Warhok and Warmonga in Kim Possible.
- Averted in American Dad! with Roger.