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  1. #1
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    Question Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    I've been wondering why in sci-fi, whenever another species calls ours by name, they always say "human."
    They all have names, yet ours does not?

    Star Trek:
    Romulan, Cardassian, Orion, Gorn, Lethean, Jem'Hadar, Vorta, Hirogen, Ocampan.

    Mass Effect:
    Turian, Krogan, Quarian, Vorcha, Elcor, Volus, Hanar, Drell, Salarian, Asari, Geth, Angara.

    I've been referring to our species as Soltrian for a long time now.
    As in Sol Three=species name.


    I thought human was a mindset, not a species.
    As in, a sentient being that understands funny jokes, compassion, love, friendship, etc.
    By that definition any sentient species with those psychological characteristics can be classified as "human" regardless of their planet of origin.

  2. #2
    First Lieutenant Xaeden's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    Words have different meanings. "Human" can be used to refer to someone who has the nature of a human, as in when someone says, "That dog is more human than any of us," but that only works because it primarily means a person who is a homo sapien. The idea that someone wouldn't know that and think it primarily means something abstract is extremely strange to me, to the point where I assume this meant as a joke but because I'm looking for something to write I'm replying to it as if it's serious regardless.

    Anyway, if it makes you feel better there is a lot of fiction where aliens refer to humans by a name that relates to their planet of origin. Terran is one fairly common example of that, which is used in Starcraft, Starshoop Troopers, and various other fictional universes. Earthling is also high up there.

    This is such a common trope, actually that I'm surprised you don't remember seeing it.

    Here's a TVTropes listing for it:

    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 language.

    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.
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.ph...ByAnyOtherName

    If you click on the link you will see tons of examples where this occurs in fiction.

    Stargate does a variation of it where the species isn't renamed, but humans from Earth get referred to as the Tau'ri based on their planet of origin. The distinction between the Tau'ri and humans from other worlds, however, is largely because the humans did not enter the galaxy as a united, technological force, but instead because they have been separated for so long that different human groups have had time to become associated with their individual civilization/planet. Thus, humans include the Tau'ri, Athosians, Abydonians, etc.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    I meant this seriously, it is not a joke.

    The most common source of confusion is the use of the word "humanoid".
    As in, two arms, two legs, a head, opposable thumbs.
    With the single exception of the Hanar (who are jellyfish), all of those I listed before qualify.
    Even Elcor, who are more like a gorilla/quadraped hybrid.

    Then there is the use of the word "humane" which is a mental aspect.
    For example, if someone told a Turian they weren't human and they thought that meant they were being called cruel (inhumane), I'm sure that could cause offense and be taken as an insult.

    Terran isn't much better as a name, since it just means a species that comes from a planet with dirt/earth on it.
    Which probably makes every species (except Hanar, who are from an ocean planet) qualify.
    Earthling is just a different way of saying the same thing.

    Also, I read a theory once that if someone from another planet came to ours and didn't know the local name, they'd end up calling it planet ocean, because that's what most of this planet is.

    In the series Ocean Girl, two envoys from the ocean planet arrive and when they meet our species, they refer to them as "opal people".
    Probably because a green and blue planet resembles an opal gemstone.

  4. #4
    Booster Gold Infinite-Possibilities's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    It seems like the name of a species to me. The fact that we have all those other words and definitions of "human" presumably comes from the fact that it is the name of our species.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human

    "Modern humans (Homo sapiens, primarily ssp. Homo sapiens sapiens) are the only extant members of the subtribe Hominina, a branch of the tribe Hominini belonging to the family of great apes. They are characterized by erect posture and bipedal locomotion; high manual dexterity and heavy tool use compared to other animals; and a general trend toward larger, more complex brains and societies."

    Also "Terran" and "Earthling" would be references to a specific planet. Our planet's is called "Earth" and "Terra." Those are its names. "Earthling" is derived from the proper noun, "Earth." It is not derived from earth, as in the word for the general concept of dirt.
    Last edited by Infinite-Possibilities; September 1st, 2017 at 10:05 AM.
    "First Weir, then Samantha Carter, and now, you! It's a pity you humans die or get reassigned so easily, or I might have a sense of satisfaction now!"

    *You got the touch! You got the poweeeeer!*

    "Arise, Woolseyus Prime."

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  5. #5
    Colonel McClance's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    In my writing, I capitalize when I refer to us as a species--Humans.

    But, when I refer to the mindset or behavioral patterns, I don't capitalize--human.

    "Dragons can't change who they are, but who would want them to? Dragons are powerful, amazing creatures."--Hiccup; Dragons: Riders of Berk

    My Books:
    Draconia: Forging Trust, Draconia: Fractured Dream, Draconia: Rehatching

  6. #6
    First Lieutenant Xaeden's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    Things like humane came out of our historical understanding of ourselves as the sole intelligent "Earthly" beings in the universe. It was meant to describe a human acting in a particularly positive manner toward other humans. The idea that humans would do so toward non-humans or that a non-human, non-celestial being could exist that could act in such a way was a foreign concept.

    As time went on, we started viewing other animals as deserving of kind treatment and started applying it to how we treat them. Here is both the obsolete definition and the modern one from the OED:

    Originally: †civil, courteous, or obliging towards others (obs.). In later use: characterized by sympathy with and consideration for others; feeling or showing compassion towards humans or animals; benevolent, kind.
    Here now is an example of humane being used in historic writing:

    1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 316/1 Humayne, courtoyse or belongyng to the nature of a man, humayn.
    We don't currently have a word for a non-human behaving in those ways toward humans or other non-humans, and humane's definition has not been modified to include that. Science fiction may sometimes use it in that context for the benefit of the audience as the alternative is to create a word they don't understand, but in the real world, we would possibly create that new word if we ever entered a less human centered context.

    With humanoid, we humans like to make sense of things based on models. That's particularly key for how our science works. For example, when trying to understand how other solar systems would operate, despite having limited data on them, we use the data we've obtained from our own solar system and extrapolate. Thus, when we see a big, gas planet, we call it a Jovian planet, after Jupiter, the biggest gas planet that we knew of for the longest time. Or when we find a planet that looks like it could support our type of life, we call it Earth-like. Similarly, when we started discovering fossils of species that were related to us, we started referring to them as humanoid, because they were like us, the first living being of this form that we had previously been aware of.

    It's a naming convention that we use with other things, too. For example, the Enterprise-D is a Galaxy-class ship and the Odyssey is a Daedalus-class after the names of the first ships in those lines.

    Language is complex and filled with various quirks. Do you ever wonder why we use man to refer to both humans as a species and males in that species? It's because the word used to exclusively mean the former and then, over time, came to also mean the latter. In the future, it's quite possible that it will be entirely obscene to ever use man in the context of our species.

    Anyway, the word "wer" used to mean male while "man" meant, essentially a gender neutral person. Although the usage of wer has died out, you can still see its influence in the word "werewolf," which essentially means "man wolf" today. For women, their word used to be "wif," which morphed into "wife" and came to exclusively mean a married female. It's also interesting to note that "human" and "man" do not share a common origin, as people commonly believe. The latter is Germanic in origin and the former comes from the Latin word "humanus." Therefore, "man" is not short for "human," it just so happens that they are sometimes used to mean the same thing because of a quirk involved in combining the Germanic based Old English and Latin based French.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    All the characteristics that can be considered "human" are there.
    Which is why I always think it's not a specific enough name for a species.


    I always call Earth type planets Class-M.
    I think it stands for Medium, as in just the right size to support sentient life.

    I find it curious that in Mass Effect, the species aren't named after their planet of origin.
    Turians come from Palaven, Quarians from Rannoch, Asari from Thessia, Krogan from Tuchanka.
    Which makes me wonder, where did their names come from?
    Last edited by Tilarta; September 9th, 2017 at 02:32 AM.

  8. #8
    Booster Gold Infinite-Possibilities's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    That's just a brief opening paragraph for "Human" on Wikipedia. Not a definitive summary of the sole defining features of the human species.

    Obviously humans have many defining physical and mental characteristics. Turians do not share them all.

    We haven't named our species after our planet in real life (at least not in English), so presumably in Mass Effect, the same is true for other species.

    But to steal another paragraph from that wikipedia article:

    "The English adjective 'human' is a Middle English loanword from Old French humain, ultimately from Latin humanus, the adjective form of homo 'man.' The word's use as a noun (with a plural: humans) dates to the 16th century. The native English term man can refer to the species generally (a synonym for humanity), and could formerly refer to specific individuals of either sex, though this latter use is now obsolete."
    "First Weir, then Samantha Carter, and now, you! It's a pity you humans die or get reassigned so easily, or I might have a sense of satisfaction now!"

    *You got the touch! You got the poweeeeer!*

    "Arise, Woolseyus Prime."

    "Elizabeth..."

  9. #9
    Lieutenant General DigiFluid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tilarta View Post
    I thought human was a mindset, not a species.
    As in, a sentient being that understands funny jokes, compassion, love, friendship, etc.
    By that definition any sentient species with those psychological characteristics can be classified as "human" regardless of their planet of origin.
    That's awfully ethnocentric, isn't it?


    ...said one Human to the other


    12345678War9101112
    Bernice SummerfieldSarah Jane SmithTorchwood

  10. #10
    First Lieutenant Xaeden's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    All the characteristics that can be considered "human" are there.
    Which is why I always think it's not a specific enough name for a species.
    This makes no sense. If the name we have given our species is not specific enough to use as a species name because there are other species with similar characteristics, leading us to refer to them as human-like, then what name could possibly be specific enough? If we called humans faafoos, you could just as easily say that your fictional creature is faafoo like and therefore that name is not specific enough either.

    If you were trying to argue that using a planet name for a species is somehow being more specific, that's simply not the case. Is a Russian an Asian? Yes, technically, but we consider that to be too broad in their context so we exclusively use language that narrows them down to their country of origin, rather than continent. Similarly, is a human who has lived his whole life on Bajor, a Bajoran? Of course, but Bajoran would not be considered specific enough to avoid confusion in that case so they purposely wouldn't be called that. Similarly, the word would apply to animals native to the planet, as in if you said: "a Bajoran rat." So, again, not specific. Things get complicated further when trying to talk about multiple intelligent lifeforms who originated on the same planet. If we still lived side by side with Neanderthals and we both met aliens together, out in the universe, it would acceptable for both of us to identify as an Earthling in certain contexts, but then we would also have to more specifically identify ourselves by our particular species in other contexts.

    I always call Earth type planets Class-M.
    I think it stands for Medium, as in just the right size to support sentient life.
    Yeah, but how do you define a Class-M planet to someone? You use a term you're trying to avoid by using that in the first place: "Earth-like" or "Earth type."

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    The psychological traits I listed are the ones that would most likely align a sentient being to being good.
    As in, if the species doesn't have them, they're either amoral or evil.
    That would have to be some kind of selective conditioning, either creating a culture that is intended to instill a negative/hostile mindset or directly modifying the genome/brain structures in order to have that mindset.

    It's more a case of biology and genetics, if a Trill was born/lived on Bajor, they'd still be a Trill.
    But for my purposes, it's physiological structure and mental perspectives that are the defining characteristics.


    If I had to define Class-M specifically, I'd say it was this wide at the equator, this distance from the sun, has enough landmass to support plants for reoxygenation, enough oceans and rivers to sustain rainfall/drinking water etc.
    And all of those characteristics would be understood once explained, because it's just math and math is universal.

  12. #12
    First Lieutenant Xaeden's Avatar
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    The psychological traits I listed are the ones that would most likely align a sentient being to being good.
    When did you list psychological traits? You posted an image that made reference to physical traits and in a previous post briefly mentioned that humane is a mental aspect.

    It's more a case of biology and genetics, if a Trill was born/lived on Bajor, they'd still be a Trill.
    Yes, but they'd be a Bajoran-Trill. In different contexts an Italian-American might say he's Italian or American or both. Context is important to understanding language because words mean different things depending on how and when they're being used.

    But for my purposes, it's physiological structure and mental perspectives that are the defining characteristics.
    So? Many animals have "defining" characteristics in common because they share a recent common ancestor or through coincidence of sorts. Are you going to go around saying horse is not a specific enough term because zebra's are horse-like? I don't know why similarities matter to your argument that the accepted term for our species is not good enough.

    To humans in Star Trek a Klingon is a humanoid. To Klingons a human might be considered a Klingonoid. That we use a variant of human to describe those who are like us does not make them humans, it's just a product of how we perceive the universe through things already familiar to us.

    If I had to define Class-M specifically, I'd say it was this wide at the equator, this distance from the sun, has enough landmass to support plants for reoxygenation, enough oceans and rivers to sustain rainfall/drinking water etc.
    And all of those characteristics would be understood once explained, because it's just math and math is universal.
    And an Earth scientist would respond to you by saying; "Oh, you mean it's Earth-like," because, again, we make sense of new things through things we already know. You might want to explain to an alien species what you mean by a Jovian planet, but for us English speaking humans who know what the word means, we would say, "Oh, it's like Jupiter. Got it," and no additional explanation would be needed.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Why is our species never named in sci-fi?

    I listed the psychological traits at the end of my starting post.

    As for animals, they don't care what we call them, because they don't comprehend the affixation of labels.
    But a sentient being would comprehend the difference, which could lead to unintentionally antagonizing them if they don't understand the context.

    As for Klingons, they have a suffix something like ngan which is applied to all sentient species and they just add a prefix to indicate where that species comes from.
    Even their own species conforms to that rule, I think they call themselves tlth-ngan.


    A Turian might say "oh, it's Palaven like".
    Then a Krogan would say "it's Tuchanka like".
    Then it would continue on from there with everyone new to the conversation.

    They'd comprehend the concept of Class-M and Class-J much easier.
    They might translate it into their own language, but they'd still be saying it as we explained the term.
    Because it's a lot easier to just use a letter and a word to define the planetary type rather then a local name that may not be familiar to all parties concerned.

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