I’ve spent most of today working on a novella, which amongst other things is an introduction to a space fantasy setting I’ve been building for some time. (I would call it science fiction, except that I’m forgoing most sensible science so I can make weird aliens with musical-mind-control powers and cute tentacled bunny-creatures that can be incinerated to fuel FTL travel. Thus, space fantasy ala Star Wars or James D. MacDonald and Debra Doyle’s Mageworld series.) It’s an enjoyable break from my usual work, though now that I’m finally writing bits of it down, it’s come time to define certain elements of this universe. Amongst those elements are the names.
I don’t mean renaming things from our own world, ala the “call a rabbit a smeerp” trope; I’m taking Isaac Asimov’s stance on that (mentioned in his opening for Nightfall) and not bogging down the story with funny words. However, I do need to name the various characters and the alien races they belong to, plus this setting has the extra added challenge of having no humans (though plenty of humanoids), which means no human names. Also trying to avoid human words in the end-results of names, because Star Wars does a good enough job of mangling random words into names all on its own. (I’m looking at you, Savage Oppress. Looking long and bitterly.)
So how does one make up names that readers can quickly connect to, instead of just smashing letters together into something even H.P. Lovecraft would have a hard time pronouncing? Instead of creating a name convention to cover all of the galaxy I’m working with, I decided to differentiate it between each alien race. Here’s what I came up with and why:
The first race I needed to name, because the protagonists of my novella are all of this race. They’re a humanoid race who operate like the sirens of myth, their songs able to affect the minds of those who hear them. They have a couple twists involved too—their wounds don’t scar, instead becoming new mouths with which to sing with, and they mate in large groups of others they harmonize with, which is something their military takes advantage of when making combat squads. I jokingly describe them as “militarized barbershop quartets,” even though the protagonists are escapees of said military.
The name of the race came easily enough; I mushed the words “psychic” and “siren” together and fiddled with the spelling. Makes it easy for readers to understand and remember what they are. But the novella has four psyrens in it, so I needed to actually come up with a naming scheme. Thanks to an earlier bit of worldbuilding, I’d decided that their primary religion is based around scripture set into song, and nearly every psyren’s name is a word from that song. Thus, I came up with names featuring soft sounds that could easily be strung together if part of a long chant; Ashua, Nulani, and Silna. The exception to this is Kozrin, whose name has sharper and stranger tones that imply a stark refusal of tradition.
Sharp noises automatically implies danger. Think of the Krogan of Mass Effect, Klingons in Star Trek, or even crocodiles in our own world. (Then there’s kangaroos, which are…still pretty dangerous if I think about it.) I wanted to work with this mental tendency to work with how the Skraks look; they’re built like chitin-covered centaurs with extra limbs and scythes for hands. They look dangerous because of their diet; they have no mouths to eat matter with, but instead feed of the pain of others. Sharp bits generally lead to painful bits.
However, I also wanted the names of the Skraks and their people to reflect their language. See, by having no mouth, they have no voice either; they communicate entirely through tapping and scraping their scythes across their chitinous bodies, a mix of sign language and morse code. Thus, their written names double as the sound effects they make, with names like Tk-skrit and Darch.
Borrowing from “The Origin of Love,” the Rav’Melsh are actually two aliens in one. The Rav half is a powerful, multi-armed and thick-skinned race with an alarming tendency to be born without a number of vital limbs and organs. The Melsh consists of symbiotic, sentient fungus that link minds with their Rav host and take form of the missing pieces, creating a being with one body and two minds.
This example actually borrows from both of those above. Like the Skrak, Rav uses sharper sounds to imply power, this time like the roar of a bellowing beast about to charge. Meanwhile, the Melsh comes from me smushing the words “meld” and “mushroom” together, like I did with the components for Psyrens. The combined name of Rav’Melsh implies a whole but can still be taken apart to discuss the components, and the same goes for citizens like Lap’Parn and Tal’Soona.
This by no means include all my fun alien creations, currently operating under codenames such as “Sunshine” and “Rock Elves,” or concepts such as cultural interplay, like how the aforementioned elves have picked up the Skrak’s tapping-speak so their elders who have turned almost entirely to stone can keep communicating with others. If nothing else, it’s at least a fun worldbuilding exercise to think on both the hows and the whys of any given fantastical setting.
Hopefully, it gave you dear readers some ideas too.