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Descriptively-Named Species

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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.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The alien protagonists from Cat Planet Cuties get called Catians as they have cat ears and tails and their somewhat catlike behaviours.
  • The alien enemies in GunBuster are simply called "Space Monsters" (or "Uchuu-kaiju" in Japanese).
  • Heterogenia Linguistico: The werewolf names for various species are usually very literal translations: "Knowing Water" for slimes, "Big Jaws" for Lizard Folk, "Furless Ones" for both humans and lizardmen. Lizardmen call werewolves "soft" and krakens "wetlegs".
  • Jojolion has the Rock Humans, otherwise perfectly-human-like beings with the ability to grow a skin of solid rock at will. They also have lifespans in excess of two hundred years, and 95% of them are Stand users. Closely related are the Rock Animals, creatures with all the traits of Rock Humans, but a non-humanoid form and animal-level intelligence.
  • 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.
  • Space Patrol Luluco gives us the Blackholeians (which have a black hole where their heads should be) and the Nothinglings, who come from a barren world and have no emotions. Oh, and the Life Fibers.

    Comic Books 
  • Watchers, symbiotes (which were later given the name Klyntar) and Brood in Marvel Comics.
  • Guardians Of the Universe (Also called Oans, originally Maltusians).
  • The rather aggressively expansionistic Reach.
  • The observant Monitors of DC Comics.
  • Each and every anthropomorphic race in Albedo: Erma Felna EDF are named after their taxidermic term from their species (Felines, lepines, rodents, etc). The reason for this is closely linked to the Ontological Mystery at the heart of the story.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Rykornians are born from what looks like giant corn stalks, and the mobile males have corn-silk like fibers on their heads.

    Film - Animation 
  • Alien Xmas features the Klepts, a race of aliens who steal both from each other and from different planets out of greed.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Prometheus: Shaw and Holloway gave the Engineers their name because they were the ones who "engineered" (i.e. created) humankind.
  • 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.

  • 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" (based on the Latin "formicae", meaning "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.
  • Two-way example in Honorverse. Treecats look like six-legged cats who mostly live in trees, which is why they're called that(treecats refer to themselves simply as "People"). We are called "two-legs" by them.
  • The Incredibly Deadly Viper from A Series of Unfortunate Events... is not actually deadly at all. It is very friendly, and Uncle Monty named it this way to prank his colleagues while he introduces this new species of snakes to them. Unfortunately, it makes things harder when Monty gets murdered by Count Olaf & his lackies, then frame the Incredibly Deadly Viper for it. Mr. Poe is reluctant to believe the Baudelaire's claims that the Viper is innocent because he finds Monty's choice of name for it to be too counterproductive if it's supposed to be a joke name.
  • The Sackers from the Star Trek novel The Three Minute Universe were named because their bodies looked like roughly human shaped bags of disgusting with translucent skin. They kept the name because the race as a whole considers nicknames an honor, especially if they come from an alien race. Near the end of the book the species name for themselves is revealed: Vinithi.
  • Carialle and Keff, in The Ship Who... Won like to name newly-discovered alien species in often idiosyncratic or referential ways. Having encountered a vaguely grasshopper-like race which communicates primarily by "sharp poots out the rectum", Keff dubs them the "Beasts Blatisant".

    Live-Action TV 
  • Each of the aliens in Alien Worlds (2020) is only given a generic title that broadly describes what it is or what it does (resulting in two completely unrelated aliens being called "predators"). The skygrazers are aliens that graze... in the sky, the pentapods are aliens which have five feet, the spiny blob-like bottom-feeders are called scavengers, the grubs are grub-like aliens, and so on.
  • Doctor Who
    • Sea Devils, who sometimes call themselves that despite the name having been coined by humans.
    • Adipose are made of body fat, also known as adipose tissue.
    • The Abzorbaloff. Absorbs people (in fairness that's an Appropriated Appellation).
    • 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 are a variant of humans from Just Before the End of the universe.
    • 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". And yet when Hoshi mis-translates the name as "Romalin", T'pol corrects her. Non-canon novels establish that both the Romulans and the Vulcans actually have different names.
    • 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.
    • The Borg, who are, of course, cyborgs.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation
      • In "Home Soil" the alien crystalline life form calls humans "ugly bags of mostly water."
      • The Bynars of who live in pairs. They also communicate between themselves in binary.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
      • Odo's species are only known as either Changelings (because they can change their appearance) or Founders (because they founded the Dominion).
    • Star Trek: Voyager
      • The Hierarchy. Low-ranking Hierarchy individuals are not allowed to do anything out of the routine without consulting their superiors first.
      • The Swarm, though in that case it's because they are so xenophobic no-one knows what they call themselves.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise
      • We get to know the species that is the Big Bad of Season 3 only as the Sphere-Builders, due to the huge spherical structures that they constructed to create the Delphic Expanse.
  • 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."
  • Blake's 7
    • In "Project Avalon", the Subterrons live a subterranean existence. What they call themselves is anyone's guess.
    • Justified with the Decimas in "The Web". They are a Servant Race genetically engineered to carry out ten functions.

  • The unicorn's name is derived from the Latin words "Uni" meaning "one" and "cornu" meaning "horn", and it's a one-horned horse.
  • The each-uisge, a creature in Scottish mythology that is either another name for or similar to the kelpie, means "water horse" in Gaelic. It seems to be a horse and it lives in the water.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 from 4th edition on.
    • 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.
    • Eberron has the Changelings who practice humanshifting and Shifters, who have a limited ability to shift forms inherited from lycanthropes.
  • 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.)

  • Tamagotchi features several breeds of Tamagotchi that are named after the object they resemble, such as with Belltchi and Hoshitchi ("hoshi" being Japanese for "star"). This is actually the "outsiders naming them" variety; Professor Banzo and his assistant Mikachu named each species of Tamagotchi as they discovered them, naming them after Earth culture and objects. After returning to their planet, the Tamagotchis adapted the naming conventions given to them, as well as the language spoken by humans.

    Video Games 
  • The Ravagers of Earth Defense Force 2017 and Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon. Amusingly, they were dubbed Ravagers before their penchance for ravaging became apparent.
  • Contrary to what their name might suggest, Metroid's Space Pirates are not simply a band of space-faring pirates but a full-blown species. Though they are never shown speaking, they even seem to refer to themselves as "Space Pirates" in their logs, (though this may just be Samus's suit translating anyways). They are lead by a space dragon, a giant brain, and a colossal space lizard, all of whom may or may not have a biological relation to the Space Pirate Mooks.
    • It can perhaps be said that the Space Pirate organization is primarily made up of one species (who are referred to in some materials as "Zebesians", though their homeworld as seen in Prime 3 is definitely not Zebes), and they are accepting of like-minded individuals from other species. One of the other "Pirate species" shown are named the "Kihunters".
    • Ridley is the only member of his species seen, but it is mentioned that he is a Space Dragon.
    • Even the Chozo, in Japanese: "choujin-zoku" means "birdman race". Chozo look like humanoid avians.
  • In the Myst sequel Riven, the creatures called wahrks are a mixture of whales and sharks. It's implied that this name for them was developed independently by a race who had never heard the English language.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Collectors, Reapers, and Keepers. It should be noted that none of the three species call themselves the names; Collectors and Keepers don't speak and Reapers disdain the title given to them:
      Sovereign: "Reaper". A label created by the Protheans to give voice to their destruction. In the end, what they chose to call us is irrelevant. We simply... are.
    • The Collectors and Keepers are named as such by the Citadel races and are species modified by the Reapers to serve as their aids in reconquering the galaxy. Even worse, the Collectors used to be the Protheans before the Reapers defiled them and the last few survivors of their race were the only reason Shepard was able to beat Sovereign via Heroic Sacrifice.
    • A Walking Spoiler example from the third game are the Leviathans. They don't seem willing to share the true name of their species with the rest of the galaxy, so everyone winds up calling them "Leviathans", as they are large aquatic creatures that live in very deep oceans.
  • The Hivers in Sword of the Stars, which is a name used by humans and not by the species itself (their name, translated to English, means "The Children"). Also, the Zuul, who are a descriptively named species in Liir speech: The word is a root of the Liir term for "abominable". The Zuul have no name for themselves, their telepathy doing odd things to their sense of personal identity, and probably don't care what others call them.
    • They do care. They would like to be called "Masters".
  • The Paranid race in the X-Universe is a clear pun on "paranoid". While not exactly paranoid, they are severely xenophobic. The Splits are a highly fractious and aggressive race that is often embroiled in civil wars. Xenon is derived from the word "xenomorph" (fancy term for "alien lifeform"), and the shortened form "xenon" used to be slang among the Argon for any alien species, but over time it came to refer to the Xenon exclusively.
  • The various Covenant enemies in Halo are either named after their military roles (Grunts, Elites, Hunters, Engineers, Prophets) or their overall demeanor (Jackals, Drones, Brutes). In their native tongues, they have their own names, but these were never used in-game until Halo 5: Guardians, possibly as a result of Translation Convention.
  • The dragon-like Dracons of Wizardry games. The rat-like Rattkins count as well as the feline Felpurrs, the canine Rawulfs, and the Tarantula-like T'Rang.
  • You get a lot of these with the various XCOM games. Snakemen and Vipers are obviously Snake People, while Thin Men are Noodle People. Cyberdiscs resemble a miniature Flying Saucer. Floaters, um, float. Lobstermen resemble lobsters and Silacoids look like weirdly aggressive rocks. Interestingly, the High Ethereal use these human-given names for the various aliens, rather than any of their own.
  • The four main races in Terra Battle are the Humans, Beastfolks, Lizardfolks, and Stonefolks. Beastfolks are Little Bit Beastly people. Lizardfolks are, well, Lizard Folk. Stonefolks are people made out of, you guess it, stone.
  • This is true of most of the species in FTL. Perfectly matched for the mantis, slug, and rock species. A bit more of a stretch but still pretty spot-on for the engi (short for "engineer"). Really the only one that doesn't fit is the zoltan.
  • Most alien species in Starbound, with playable races including Apex (former Human Aliens who devolved back into ape-like forms in exchange for greater brain power), Avian (humanoids resembling wingless birds), Floran (sapient, mobile carnivorous plants) and Glitch (machines built to simulate evolution of society, stuck in Medieval Stasis due to a glitch in their programming). Other species include: Penguins (sapient space penguins), Alpaca (Proud Warrior Race of alpaca-like space centaurs), Shadows (living shadows), Froggs (frog-like Proud Merchant Race) and Fennerox (humanoid fennec foxes).
  • Justified in Subnautica and Subnautica: Below Zero. The PDA automatically generates a simple, descriptive name for any scanned species that doesn't appear in its database. This results in, for example, fish with large side-facing eyes being called "Peepers", shark-like creatures that burrow into sand being called "Sand Sharks", and so on.

  • 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:
    • An amphibious species called the Tohdfraugs.
    • 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 that happened to spontaneously gain sentience (in a very literal sense, Schlock is all brain).
    • The Uniocs. Discussed when 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. Their body structure consists 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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, are 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.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • A lot of the scientific names given to animals follow this trope. This is more obvious in extinct animals since those don't get to 'hide' behind a common name. Examples include Triceratops (three-horned face) and Ctenochasma (comb jaw). It should, however, be noted that most of these names are given based on outstanding features compared to related animals, thus many names become less telling once it turns out that the animal is related to a ridiculous amount of animals that share said 'unique' feature.
  • This was a common thing in ancient Egypt where, among other examples, their name for "cat" was "mau" and their name for "donkey" was "A" (the way they onomatopoeic the donkey's sound, which we write out as "hee-haw"). It's basically as if they approached these animals, asked "pardon me good sir, but what are you?", the animal made a sound, and they said, "very well then!"
  • There's also the anteater. We're pretty sure you can guess why it's called that.
  • The most famous example is probably the octopus, "octo" being Greek for "eight" and "pus" for "feet". Similarly, the class octopi belong to, Cephalopoda — "cephalo" for head and "pod" for foot (also in Greek). This alludes to the fact cephalopods are basically heads with several feet attached.

Alternative Title(s): Exactly What It Says On The Hat, Obviously Named Species