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Thread: At what point do names for scifi planets, species, people become...cheesy?

  1. #1
    Time Traveler mfarraday's Avatar
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    At what point do names for scifi planets, species, people become...cheesy?

    I'm writing a scifi novella about life in deep space. So far I have planets/moons named Ixo, and Xaleil. There are species called the Quatha and Drokor...

    When does this sort of thing start to seem contrived and cheesy? I haven't really imagined what the new species will LOOK like yet, may be part of my problem. I wonder a bit if I should have an artist make up pictures of alien species for me so that I might have something in mind when I'm describing such things.

    I've never done any world building before. I don't want to sound ridiculous.

    There is no....guide, is there, for sounding technical and realistic, while making up words, and creating alien worlds?

  2. #2
    Getting there. WriterDude's Avatar
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    Good question. If they're human worlds, and habitable worlds are abundant in your future, its quite likely they'll be given more familiar names, Sheffield, or Serendipity, or Jenifer, or Hades. Depending on the nature of the world, and who gets to name it and why.

    It could be family names, or corporations. Or who set down the first human boot.

    And of course, an Alien world might have an English handle that sounds nothing like the Native one.

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW Zach Lancer's Avatar
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    I think it helps if you have some idea of the cultural background where the words come from. Are they names humans gave to the alien species, or are they based on alien languages? Do the aliens have auditory language? If they have a radically different system of communication from human beings, it makes sense that the name given to them by us would at leas be something easy to pronounce and remember. Perhaps something based on the creatures' native system? Like Centaurii if they come from the Centauri systems.

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    They've been very bad, Mr Flibble Mr Flibble's Avatar
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    When they sound made up instead of organic (or are stupidly hard to work out how to pronounce. Then again I;ve had people tell me they couldn't work out how to pronounce phonetically spelled real names...)

    Yeah, that doesn't help that much does it? I think it's a case of 'I know it when I see it'.

    With yours, it's hard seeing them out of context, but I've sure seen worse...then again, if you change your mind later, get a name that really works for you, find and replace is awesome (as long as you don't change someone;s name from Will to something else. Learned that the hard way!)




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    A Gentleman of a refined age... thothguard51's Avatar
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    If you are keeping up to date with the latest findings from NASA, most suspected planets are given a destination name and number based on the telescope or instrument that finds it.

    Such as Kepler 6 would be the star, and Kepler 6d would be the fourth planet from the star.

    For us humans, we would more than likely only give a planet a name once we visit it and discover if it is habitable. Why waste a good name on a dead planet. The names we use, more than likely would be in Latina or a variation of, since science uses Latin naming systems most of the time.

    As to naming fantasy worlds, just don't get carried away with exotic names no one can pronounce, or silly names like Wally World. Same with naming species. If you name a species Cone Heads, I am going to put the book down, unless its about the SNL Cone Heads.
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    practical experience, FTW Zig Bigfoot's Avatar
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    I think readers of Scifi expect exotic names and locales. Unless the names are funny-sounding or trite, I see no problem (and none of the names you gave fit those descriptions, so IMHO you're good).

  7. #7
    steaming up the e-readers TheaBlowsKisses's Avatar
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    I always start off thinking, "Ugh, this sounds so lame and made-up, it's going to be weird." But then I remember that, as Zig Bigfoot pointed out, readers of those genres will expect and accept most of what I come up with.

    I also find that the more I keep using the made-up names, the more natural they feel. (I also usually run a quick google search on anything I made up to make sure it's not something well-known. It seems that half of what I come up with is somehow related to World of Warcraft. <_< )

  8. #8
    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    What do the words mean in the language of the organisms/creatures/people who originally named them? Do they mean Dark or Big, Light-filled or Small? If you keep track of this, other words or names will naturally come to you as you write, and tada! - you're created a language. (For example if Ixo is a word meaning light or bright, then another world or place name might become N'Ixo, or Enen-Ixo, or something similar, meaning dark or without light.)

    Keep a little glossary, if only for yourself.

    Just a suggestion ...
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    Time Traveler mfarraday's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jaksen View Post
    What do the words mean in the language of the organisms/creatures/people who originally named them? Do they mean Dark or Big, Light-filled or Small? If you keep track of this, other words or names will naturally come to you as you write, and tada! - you're created a language. (For example if Ixo is a word meaning light or bright, then another world or place name might become N'Ixo, or Enen-Ixo, or something similar, meaning dark or without light.)

    Keep a little glossary, if only for yourself.

    Just a suggestion ...
    oh my goodness! I didn't think of it that way. And I call myself a linguist (my bread-and-butter is my language ability, I speak Japanese/Spanish/a smattering of Romanian...)

    Thanks so much for the idea, wow! I can be incredibly short sighted sometimes.

  10. #10
    Time Traveler mfarraday's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheaBlowsKisses View Post
    I also find that the more I keep using the made-up names, the more natural they feel. (I also usually run a quick google search on anything I made up to make sure it's not something well-known. It seems that half of what I come up with is somehow related to World of Warcraft. <_< )
    I will google search the things I come up with to see if they have been thought of before, even though perhaps it will lead to more agonizing in some ways...still, better to find out earlier than later... Good idea! I thought about making a list/glossary so that anytime I need a new species etc I could refer to it...

  11. #11
    Time Traveler mfarraday's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thothguard51 View Post
    If you are keeping up to date with the latest findings from NASA, most suspected planets are given a destination name and number based on the telescope or instrument that finds it.

    Such as Kepler 6 would be the star, and Kepler 6d would be the fourth planet from the star.

    For us humans, we would more than likely only give a planet a name once we visit it and discover if it is habitable. Why waste a good name on a dead planet. The names we use, more than likely would be in Latina or a variation of, since science uses Latin naming systems most of the time.

    As to naming fantasy worlds, just don't get carried away with exotic names no one can pronounce, or silly names like Wally World. Same with naming species. If you name a species Cone Heads, I am going to put the book down, unless its about the SNL Cone Heads.
    I will keep the pronounce-able on my short list! I did come up with a planet already that had a consonant and then some trailing numbers as one of their names...so yes, I did notice how NASA currently labels things...always good to be reminded though.

  12. #12
    Time Traveler mfarraday's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zach Lancer View Post
    I think it helps if you have some idea of the cultural background where the words come from. Are they names humans gave to the alien species, or are they based on alien languages? Do the aliens have auditory language? If they have a radically different system of communication from human beings, it makes sense that the name given to them by us would at leas be something easy to pronounce and remember. Perhaps something based on the creatures' native system? Like Centaurii if they come from the Centauri systems.
    I think they are alien names that came from alien languages. In which case it's far more complicated. Of course, I could always go with the whole this-is-the-name-civilization-gave-it style, because part of my story involves a dystopian, imperialist government, and they might decide that just because the other worlds' names were not pronounce-able, they had to label the other worlds themselves....

    I'm talking myself into a hole here...maybe.

    Thanks for the input!

  13. #13
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    At the point where they call attention to themselves.

  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    I didn't have any problem with your names.

  15. #15
    New writer since 07/2012. Cornelius Gault's Avatar
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    I have used a trick for creating names:

    (a) Pick a name you like (or don't like) - Peter, Paul and Mary.
    (b) Advance each consonant to the next one in the alphabet, wrapping from Z back to B.
    (c) Advance each vowel to the next one in the alphabet, wrapping from U back to A.
    (d) The results are Qivis, Qeam and Nesz.
    (e) Repeat as needed until you find one you like (some may be unpronouncable or otherwise stupid-sounding).
    (f) If you repeat steps a-c with the results in D: Rowot, Rien and Pitb.
    (g) Repeat again and you get: Suxuv, Soip and Qovc.

    (h) Using the above, I could make some changes and name my characters Quivis, Nez, pTib (silent p) and Quovoc.

    Just a possible suggestion. I like the idea, though, that the names might be common "Earth" names if the planets were Earth colonies. If not, the names are probably transliterations of the alien species' pronunciation of their own planet's names, etc.

    Another idea, use Google to translate english words to arabic (or some other language), listen to the pronunciation and write down how it sounds to you.
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  16. #16
    Time Traveler mfarraday's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cornelius Gault View Post
    I have used a trick for creating names:

    (a) Pick a name you like (or don't like) - Peter, Paul and Mary.
    (b) Advance each consonant to the next one in the alphabet, wrapping from Z back to B.
    (c) Advance each vowel to the next one in the alphabet, wrapping from U back to A.
    (d) The results are Qivis, Qeam and Nesz.
    (e) Repeat as needed until you find one you like (some may be unpronouncable or otherwise stupid-sounding).
    (f) If you repeat steps a-c with the results in D: Rowot, Rien and Pitb.
    (g) Repeat again and you get: Suxuv, Soip and Qovc.

    Just a possible suggestion. I like the idea, though, that the names might be common "Earth" names if the planets were Earth colonies. If not, the names are probably transliterations of the alien species' pronunciation of their own planet's names, etc.

    Another idea, use Google to translate english words to arabic (or some other language), listen to the pronunciation and write down how it sounds to you.
    That's wonderful.Thank you for the help.

  17. #17
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    When there are too many k's and z's.

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  18. #18
    Geekzilla BigWords's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WriterDude View Post
    If they're human worlds, and habitable worlds are abundant in your future, its quite likely they'll be given more familiar names, Sheffield, or Serendipity, or Jenifer, or Hades.
    Actually, if there are enough planets - and the colonization is spurred on by corporations or the military - there would be an official designation (a jumble of letters and numbers) and a common name (probably more than one) which would be informal at best. I like complexity, so I can live with a planet being called a dozen different things over the course of a novel, dependent on who is talking about it.

    Quote Originally Posted by thothguard51 View Post
    If you are keeping up to date with the latest findings from NASA, most suspected planets are given a destination name and number based on the telescope or instrument that finds it.
    I've seen this mangled. And I have my lingering doubts that the current nomenclature would survive the rapid exploration of space, with the lists of planets quickly descending into strings of letters and numbers from an officially designated naming system.

    Quote Originally Posted by thothguard51 View Post
    For us humans, we would more than likely only give a planet a name once we visit it and discover if it is habitable. Why waste a good name on a dead planet.
    That's... probably correct, but there's a nagging feeling that habitability wouldn't be the primary concern - the ability to strip mine planets would be up there in the top priorities of some corporations. Actually, the most valuable planets would be ones where there was no life, and vast mining facilities could be created without pesky regulations getting in the way.

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  19. #19
    the Juggernaut of Imperfection crunchyblanket's Avatar
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    As long as you don't call substances "unobtanium" you should be fine.

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    practical experience, FTW Zach Lancer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mfarraday View Post
    I think they are alien names that came from alien languages.
    Okay, but you should consider how an alien language would be constucted. The obvious difference to any human language would be that it was created to serve the need of a creature with (possibly) completely different biology. Even if we discount all alternative means of communication that a sentient creature could employ (visual cues such as movement and color, hormones and smells, some form of telepathy in the more mystical scifi stories), even a completely sound-based language might be impossible to conceptualize in our language. It could be the aliens speak in a much higher or lower frequency than us, or their language requires more than one orifice, or they use a completely different sort of organ to generate sound waves, like a bee's buzz.

    Of course, none of this is a problem if your aliens are of the Star Trek variety (humans with makeup), but I for one hope you aim a little higher than that. What I think you should do is imagine the alien first and the language second, because that's the order in which they would have evolved in the first place. If you choose to create an alien with a radically different way of communication, it would make more sense to me for humans to use some kind of Latin derivative based on their home system or some such title that is easy for humans to refer to. Think ancient Romans: they didn't bother learning to pronounce the weird languages of distant tribes, they jus gave them Latin names that suited their needs. Or you know, just labeled them as barbarians and slaughtered them.

  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW Zach Lancer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigWords View Post
    That's... probably correct, but there's a nagging feeling that habitability wouldn't be the primary concern - the ability to strip mine planets would be up there in the top priorities of some corporations. Actually, the most valuable planets would be ones where there was no life, and vast mining facilities could be created without pesky regulations getting in the way.
    Unlikely, unless the planet has some kind of unique resource (unobtainium yay). The gravitational fields of planets mean that no matter the level of technology, it will always take a considerable amount of energy to remove any mass of resources from the surface to outer space. Asteroids are where the future of interstellar mining is, their gravity fields are much weaker and they have all the mineral resources that can be found on earth. Planet mining would be grossly inefficient, unless the minerals mined are used on planet surface for colonization.

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by crunchyblanket View Post
    As long as you don't call substances "unobtanium" you should be fine.
    Beat me to it... that would've been the extent of my opinion.

  23. #23
    starting over Marian Perera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zach Lancer View Post
    Okay, but you should consider how an alien language would be constucted.
    It's been a while since I read Aliens and Alien Societies, but I think it had a chapter on communication and language, and how these might be different for alien species.

  24. #24
    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zach Lancer View Post
    Think ancient Romans: they didn't bother learning to pronounce the weird languages of distant tribes, they jus gave them Latin names that suited their needs. Or you know, just labeled them as barbarians and slaughtered them.
    Yarp, I'm with Zach on this one. If your galactic empire is dominated by one race (I'm guessing hoomans or hoomans in makeup wot speak English, conveniently) then they would be the ones setting the common language and nomenclature. So in essence, what other races call their planets is irrelevant, it's how the empire refers to them that matters.

    And this goes for the races on those planets too. They might have some horrifically unspellable name that requires 3 nasal chambers to pronounce correctly, but if the Imperial species registry calls them Hairyheads, then they're pretty much stuck with it
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  25. #25
    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kallithrix View Post
    Yarp, I'm with Zach on this one. If your galactic empire is dominated by one race (I'm guessing hoomans or hoomans in makeup wot speak English, conveniently) then they would be the ones setting the common language and nomenclature. So in essence, what other races call their planets is irrelevant, it's how the empire refers to them that matters.

    And this goes for the races on those planets too. They might have some horrifically unspellable name that requires 3 nasal chambers to pronounce correctly, but if the Imperial species registry calls them Hairyheads, then they're pretty much stuck with it
    True enough.

    But other domineering groups have used the names that the conquered natives have given things.

    Otherwise the US wouldn't be littered with ethnic tribal names, or corruptions of the same. Examples:

    Massachusetts
    Connecticut
    Mississippi
    Dakota
    Alabama
    Arizona
    Arkansas
    Alaska
    Wisconsin
    (There's lots more.)

    Etc. etc. etc.

    And the hundreds, or thousands of names given to rivers, cities, hills and mountains, small towns, etc. Personal example: I live in Bridgewater (English name) but down the street is a section known as Titicut (native name.) I own a house on Cape Cod in the town of Bourne (English name) but my section of town is known as Pocasset (native name) and up the road is a Tahanto and a Cataumet (native names.)

    I think you'll find the same thing in Canada, Mexico and Australia, too. Many local, native names were retained, or changed slightly, by the new arrivals.
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